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Defense task force on sexual assault wraps up its worldwide base tour in Naples

NAPLES, Italy — A task force charged with assessing the effectiveness of sexual assault prevention programs in the military wrapped up a worldwide tour of 40 installations with a stop in Naples last week.

During its 11-month tour, the Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services conducted more than 400 interviews, including 60 with sexual assault victims; collected data from more than 1,800 individuals during focus groups; and conducted surveys with sexual assault program specialists.

“We’ve done immense data collection, both quantitatively and qualitatively,” said Brig. Gen. Sharon Dunbar, a member of the 10-person task force. “No task force heretofore has done such extensive visits or has collected this much data. It will allow us to determine a number of trends which help us map recommendations.”

The unit has met with commanding officers, program coordinators, first responders, witnesses and victims of sexual assault. Part of the data collection included a survey completed in April which canvassed sexual assault program supervisors, managers and victim advocates to gauge perceptions of how effective existing programs were.

The task force is studying whether different commands’ mandatory sexual assault prevention programs work, or whether they’re “a punch-the-ticket, do-it-online type of training,” Louis Iasiello, task force co-chair and a retired rear admiral, said during a stop in Seoul, South Korea, in May.

“This is a challenge because the troops in general will say to you they’re really more aware of problems like suicide or DUI,” said task force member Heidi Luedtke, a social scientist. “With sexual assault, people are more concerned about privacy. Commanders are less likely to publicize the consequences, but the consequence of that is people don’t think anything happens.”

The survey also showed respondents didn’t think that alcohol education programs were helpful in reducing sexual assaults.

“People tell you they think that alcohol and sexual assault are related, but if you ask if alcohol education helps reduce sexual assault, they say no,” Luedtke said.

In July, the task force will present its findings in a report to the secretary of defense, who in turn will submit it to Congress.

One of the points stressed by the task force, which includes five military members and five civilians, was the necessity to work with the civilian community in forming strategies to deal with sexual assault.

“It’s critical, particularly now with returning Guard and Reserve members coming back into all of our communities,” said task force member Delilah Rumburg, the executive director for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. “We all need to understand what the issues are and how we can best serve our military personnel when they do return back to their homes.

“You have a large number of Guard and Reserves that are impacted in continually being deployed. So it’s important for civilian communities to provide that service when it isn’t easily or readily available because of the location,” Rumburg said.

The committee was formed in 2005 by congressional mandate via the National Defense Authorization Act to address sexual assault at the service academies after several high-profile cases.

Stars and Stripes reporter Ashley Rowland contributed to this report.


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