FORT BLISS. Texas — While senators on Tuesday grilled members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about sexual misconduct in the nation's military, Fort Bliss officials said they are already working to resolve a problem that has also affected one of the country's largest Army posts.
Figures released Tuesday by Fort Bliss officials showed that there have been nearly four dozen sexual assault and sexual harassment cases at the post since a new prevention program began in October.
"We are trying to get a culture where soldiers do not allow their fellow soldiers to be victimized. Commanders do not allow their soldiers to be victimized," Fort Bliss spokes man Maj. Joe Buccino said.
Buccino said that Fort Bliss had 33 sexual assault cases and 13 sexual harassment cases reported since Oct. 1. Of those cases:
- 38 were male on female.
- 7 were male on male.
- 1 was female on male.
Buccino said that 24 cases were on post, 21 cases took place off post, and one was at an unidentified location.
Figures were not immediately available about arrests, disciplinary action and assault cases from past years.
"The unknown with sexual assault is how many cases are going unreported," Buccino said. "We've got to get to a climate that their commanders will take their case seriously."
Victims of sexual assault sometimes seek help from support groups in the El Paso community.
Guadalupe Ortiz is an administrator for STARS, or Sexual Trauma and Assault
Response Services, an El Paso organization that helps sexual assault victims. Ortiz said that in the past year she has seen an increase in people with ties to the military seeking help.
"They feel safer or more supportive or more support in the field versus for what they offer in the military," Ortiz said. She said that STARS sees up to 25 to 30 military-related cases a year.
Sexual assault is a problem not limited the Army post, which is home to more than 33,000 soldiers and their families.
The FBI's preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report shows that El Paso (population 675,536) had 184 forcible rapes reported last year and 217 reported in 2011. Ortiz said she feels the numbers are low.
On Oct. 1, Fort Bliss started the new Army-wide Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) training program intended to stop sexual misconduct, officials said.
The program trains advocates to help victims of sexual assault and teaches leaders with a focus on prevention. Every unit down to the company level has a SHARP representative.
On June 24, Fort Bliss will have a "stand-down," in which all training that day will focus on sexual harassment and assault, officials said. The training had been planned before Tuesday's Senate hearing.
Army Maj. Gen. Sean B. MacFarland, who last month became commander of Fort Bliss, spoke about the problem of sexual assaults in the military on Friday during his first meeting with news reporters. MacFarland compared such assaults within the Army to the "insider attacks" in Afghan istan by enemy infiltrators that erode the trust between U.S. and Afghan forces.
"Sexual assault and sexual harassment erodes the underpinning of everything that we do in the Army," Buccino said. "We are really focusing on fostering a climate of trust that protects all of our soldiers."