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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — More U.S. Forces Korea commanders need to take a larger role in telling their troops that sexual assaults among servicemembers will not be tolerated, according to USFK’s sexual assault program director.

“We need commanders and senior leaders getting involved,” said Hazel Johnson, USFK’s chief of joint personnel policy and programs and the command’s sexual assault program director.

“We’ve got some that are doing all they can. And some are not doing anything. And victims in their units are treated poorly as a result,” she said.

For almost two years, USFK and other military commands worldwide have ramped up awareness of sexual assaults among servicemembers, changes that came in response to Air Force Academy cadets’ complaints in 2003 that their reports of assault had been ignored.

Since then, the Pentagon has made sweeping changes. It created a single definition of sexual assault for all branches, allowed for victims to report assault without prompting a military investigation and began requiring sexual assault education as part of training for new members.

USFK has made its own changes. The latest came Thursday, when Johnson’s office launched a new Web page to educate servicemembers about the dangers of sexual assault. In late 2005, the command established a 24-hour hot line for victims. Since May 2004, the command has recruited and trained hundreds of volunteer victim advocates to serve as caseworkers for each victim that comes forward, according to Johnson.

A recent Army Inspector General’s visit — part of a worldwide assessment — brought glowing reviews, Johnson said. “We blew their socks off,” she said.

Still, Johnson said, the most significant moves to prevent sexual assault can come from unit commanders and senior noncommissioned officers. Leaders need to ensure their servicemembers understand the definition of assault and the consequences it can have for the offenders, the victims and the unit as a whole, she said.

“I’ve got 25 years in the Army,” said Johnson, a retired sergeant major. “In the foxhole, we have to trust each other. It’s a mission-readiness issue. It’s not about being men and it’s not about being women. It’s about being ready to fight tonight.”

Education about sexual assault was a key issue under former USFK commander Gen. Leon J. LaPorte and is continuing under Gen. B.B. Bell, who took charge earlier this month, Johnson said.

Some unit commanders have made sexual assault education a priority, and the move is showing results, Johnson and others say.

Because most assaults happen in barracks, some units now require that barracks doors remain open while men and women are visiting.

The 8th U.S. Army’s Troop Command has adopted the policy and leaders say it’s made a difference. In the first seven months under the new rule, just one assault was reported, according to Lt. Col. David Ward, the unit’s commander.

The policy can be a challenge in a unit with 500 soldiers spread through 12 buildings on Yongsan. First Sgt. Michael P. Darbison said he, Ward and other senior leaders check the barracks routinely as do the noncommissioned officers who are assigned to do the checks.

“I don’t think it was a popular decision,” Darbison said in a January interview. “It’s hard to enforce, but I think it’s getting across.”

When an assault is reported, a sexual assault response coordinator, or SARC, makes sure the servicemember gets the medical treatment, counseling and criminal investigation that is needed or wanted, Johnson said. Then a victim advocate is assigned to each person who makes a report, she said.

U.S. servicemembers who are assaulted now have the option of pursuing criminal investigations, Johnson said. If wanted, a servicemember can seek medical help without prompting a military investigation. This option, called restricted reporting, is not available to civilian workers, though the Pentagon is considering expanding the policy, Johnson said.

Last year, 117 sexual assaults — rape, forcible sodomy or indecent assault — were reported among USFK servicemembers, Johnson said. Seven of those reports were restricted.

Those numbers were up from 2004 but it’s difficult to determine whether more incidents are happening or more people feel comfortable coming forward, Johnson said. She and others expect 2006 to show a better picture of what is really happening.

To encourage reporting, USFK established a sexual assault hot line about two months ago. Anyone — servicemembers, family members, civilian workers, South Korean servicemembers who work with the U.S. Army — can dial 158 from any DSN line, or 0505-764-5700 from any commercial line or cell phone, to get help.

The hot line, Johnson said, will prompt immediate help.

“It’s no different than seeing someone being wounded on the battlefield,” she said. “We get to that person and we get them help.”

Definition of sexual assault

Assault is a crime. It is defined as intentional sexual contact, characterized by the use of force, physical threat or abuse of authority or when the victim does not or cannot consent.

Sexual assault includes rape, nonconsensual sodomy (oral or anal sex), indecent assault (unwanted, inappropriate sexual contact or fondling) or attempts to commit these acts.

Sexual assault can occur without regard to gender or spousal relationship or age of the victim.

“Consent” shall not be deemed or construed to mean the failure of the victim to offer physical resistance. Consent is not given when a person uses force, threat of force, coercion or when the victim is asleep, incapacitated or unconscious.

Source: Department of Defense

Sexual assault hot line

The assault hot line became available in late 2005. The hotline should be used to report assaults, even ones that might have happened in the past. The phone line rings directly to a sexual assault response coordinator, a person who can set in motion the health care, counseling and criminal investigation needed or wanted in each case. The hot line should not be used to gain basic information.

From any military base, regardless of branch, dial 158.

From any off-base phone or cell phone, dial 0505-764-5700.

A menu will prompt callers to select the area of South Korea they are in.

Sexual assault Web page

Go to www.korea.army.mil and click on “enter.” From this page, there is a direct link to the sexual assault information page.

Source: U.S. Forces Korea

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