WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is targeting alcohol consumption in its battle to curb sexual assaults in the military.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced a department-wide review of the services’ alcohol policies during a news conference with reporters Thursday, the same day that the Pentagon released its latest report on sexual assault within the ranks. The Defense Department revealed there were more than 5,000 reports of sexual assault by servicemembers in fiscal 2013, a 50 percent increase over the previous year.
Officials have said that the actual number of sexual assaults is much higher because many troops are reluctant to report such attacks.
More than two-thirds of the sexual assault reports involved alcohol use by either the victim, the assailant or both, according to the Pentagon.
“[The alcohol policies] will be revised, where necessary, to address risks that alcohol poses to others, including the risk that alcohol is used as a weapon against victims in a predatory way,” Hagel said.
Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, the director of DOD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said the services will share the findings of their reviews with Hagel, but wouldn’t say what specific measures are being considered.
He did say that the services will look outside the military for help in tackling the problem. Encouraging responsible sales practices, as well as the training of bartenders and other alcohol providers in communities around military installations, will be a key part of the effort, he told reporters.
Nate Galbreath, a senior adviser to SAPRO, said two state-level initiatives were “promising” models that DOD could follow. One is California’s Responsible Beverage Service program, which aims to prevent bar and restaurant patrons from getting dangerously drunk.
“This is training providers to understand how people consume alcohol, what its effects are on the body and how to maybe serve people in a way that diminishes those impacts, those effects on the body so that they don’t get intoxicated as quickly,” Galbreath said.
Providing a food menu to someone who orders a drink and encouraging them to eat something to slow the absorption of alcohol into the system, is one method that is used, according to Galbreath.
“You [also] look at times associated with when you sell things. Do you really need to sell someone five-fifths of bourbon at 2:00 in the morning? Probably not,” he said.
Galbreath also pointed to Arizona’s Safer Bars Alliance, which established practices that bar owners and staff can adopt to mitigate the risk of sexual assault in their establishments through interventions and other safety measures. Citing data obtained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said communities that use these kinds of approaches have seen a decrease in violent crimes.
Soldiers interviewed Friday at Kleber Kaserne, a small Army post in Kaiserslautern, Germany, were skeptical that additional policies limiting alcohol use would do anything to curb sexual assault. More needs to be done, they said, to encourage personal responsibility, because servicemembers will always find ways to get alcohol.
“I don’t think there’s much more that they can do,” said Army Spc. Darius Lesane, 21, of Jacksonville, N.C. “When it comes down to alcohol consumption, it comes down to the particular person. You know, everybody in the military, we’re all adults here. You should be able to have that self-control that comes with the responsibility of drinking alcohol. The government, they’re going to keep trying to come up with more restrictions and more rules, but in the end, it all just comes down to the individual person.”
“There ain’t no way they can ban alcohol for soldiers,” said Pvt. Lloyd Brown of Casselberry, Fla. “Soldiers will always find a way to get alcohol, whether they go out and buy it or find someone else to buy it for them.”
“Making the barracks dry or having pubs and bars stop serving after 2:00 [a.m.], that’s not going to necessarily do anything,” said Army Spc. Tequon McFadden, 30, of Bronx, N.Y. “Who’s to say that these guys won’t find it somewhere else or go somewhere else and possibly get themselves into more trouble in pursuit of that? It just comes down to being responsible.”
Army Pfc. Vanessa Miranda, 21, of Eureka, Calif., said alcohol can be a problem for some individuals but doesn’t know what the military can do to fix it.
“Some people have problems in their lives before they get drunk, so when they get drunk, they go out and they fight or they go out and get really slammered, and they get, like, taken over by other people, that’s when things happen, I guess,” she said.
Restricting alcohol sales after 2 a.m., like some bars in the States do, doesn’t seem to her to be a good solution.
“That’s not going to do anything,” she said. “By 2 o’clock, everybody’s drunk already.”
Overseas, the U.S. military has repeatedly taken steps to curb alcohol use, particularly in South Korea and Japan.
In 2011, two rape cases within two weeks — both committed by soldiers who had been drinking — led U.S. Forces Korea commanders to place troops under an off-post nighttime curfew that remains in effect.
Military leaders in Japan enacted a similar curfew in 2012 after two sailors who had been drinking brutally raped an Okinawan woman.
In addition, servicemembers assigned to Japan are required to complete sexual assault prevention and response training within 12 months of their arrival, or they are barred from off-base liberty altogether.
The U.S. also routinely sends military police patrols to bar districts outside bases to ensure troops aren’t misbehaving. It’s not uncommon to see uniformed personnel walking among people partying in the streets of Seoul or Tokyo. The same is true in Kaiserslautern, Germany, near Ramstein Air Base.
Other steps include limiting alcohol sales on base.
The Navy announced new limits to alcohol sales last July as part of a package of initiatives aimed at preventing sexual assaults. Alcohol sales are now restricted to the hours between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., and Navy Exchange mini-marts are required to limit alcohol products to no more than 10 percent of their retail floor space. Exchanges are also required to stock single-use alcohol detection devices under the rules.
The Marine Corps followed suit in September, restricting alcohol sales at exchanges to between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. and picking up the 10 percent rule. Corps leaders also promised to limit alcohol promotion and marketing on bases.
Eighth Army leaders in Korea issued an order in November 2012 that stopped alcohol sales at on-base shoppettes and liquor stores at 10 p.m. and limited the amount of alcohol soldiers can keep in their barracks room. The commander of the 86th Airlift Wing issued a similar ban in the Kaiserslautern Military Community, limiting alcohol sales between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. at AAFES facilities. Similar bans are also in effect elsewhere in Germany, including Grafenwoehr and Spangdahlem Air Base.
In Korea, officials also mandated that on-post clubs take steps to identify underage patrons, such as issuing wristbands, and prohibited the sale of pitchers of beer that could easily be distributed to underage drinkers.
Stars and Stripes reporters Steven Beardsley, Jennifer Svan, Erik Slavin and Ashley Rowland contributed to this report.