7th Fleet hopes frank discussion will curb sexual assaults

Chief Petty Officer Michele Skaggs says small groups and honest discussions are important when it comes to talking about sexual assault in the Navy. The general military training coordinator is part of a recent movement in the 7th Fleet to create programs that stress preventing sexual assault instead of programs that react to it.


Year-long program seeks to educate, dispel myths

By ALLISON BATDORFF | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 4, 2005

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Pairing up with a male liberty buddy when the ship pulls into port is not an invitation for sex.

Nor do women “cry rape” when a guy they slept with doesn’t call them afterward.

When it comes to sexual assault, misinformation makes the rounds among Navy personnel, says 7th Fleet spokesman Chief Petty Officer Rick Chernitzer.

“We dispel the myths,” he said. “Some people don’t even know what sexual assault is — we define it for them. We talk about date rape. We talk about sexual predators, situations where sexual assaults occur and how to avoid them.”

In fact, 7th Fleet plans to talk and talk and talk about sexual assault to prevent it. The fleet started a proactive training program last week that is scheduled to run through January 2007.

“We believe in preventative maintenance, not damage control,” said 7th Fleet Command Master Chief Tom Howard aboard the USS Blue Ridge on Thursday. “We want to educate people to stop it from happening.”

Education starts with a 45-second video and continues in small group discussions. Many people have questions they won’t ask in big groups, said Chief Michele Skaggs, the general military training coordinator. Sexual assault prevention refreshers will be given when ships pull into port, as most assaults happen during liberty, Skaggs said.

“Navy women are always going into different countries where they might not know how to flag a cab or where the police station is,” Skaggs said. Plus, Navy women hang out with their peer groups, which usually are vastly male. Skaggs, for example, is one of six female chiefs in a group of about 80, she said.

“You usually hang out with people in your peer group. For most women, this means one or two women in a big group of guys,” Skaggs said. “We want people to keep it in their minds all the time, to be asking themselves ‘Am I doing the right thing? Do I have a plan?’ ”

Victims used to have to “point a finger” at someone before they got help, said Skaggs. Now, with the military policy of “restricted reporting,” victims don’t have to name names.

“A lot of people are unaware of this,” Skaggs said.

Four sexual assaults occur in “a typical week” fleetwide, according to an April 2005 memo from Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Walter Doran.

It occurs “in hotel rooms in port, the BEQ (Bachelors Enlisted Quarters) and off base when someone says he’s just going to crash for the night,” Howard said.

And, for every assault that gets reported, statistics say 10 others did not, he added.

“Like everywhere in the world, we fear that men believe the invitation is there when it isn’t,” Howard said. “Our goal is to make sure that education is in place and that it is constant.”

This effort also may be implemented in Pacific Fleet and the 2nd Fleet, as both asked for the training materials, Howard said.

Seventh Fleet plans on keeping training fresh and frequent.

“We have to constantly change our approach — otherwise people become immune,” Howard said. “You give someone a general training, they could forget it 10 minutes. We need people to learn and to do the right thing.”

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