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Sexual assault problem hurts our ‘fabric of trust’

Published: 02:34PM February 27th, 2014

WE have a problem. Sexual assault is eating away at the fabric of trust in our ranks. We need to fix it.

When I say “we,” I don’t mean the Army or Joint Base Lewis-McChord. I mean all of us — from junior Soldiers to our family members, military and civilian leaders.

Congress recently sent a very clear message that commanders in the field need to quickly right the ship or have it done for them. Commanders and noncommissioned officer leaders alone can’t get it done.

Make no mistake. Commanders and leaders at all levels have a responsibility to create an environment of professionalism and respect for each member of the team. We have the duty to educate subordinates about available resources and to weed out those who violate that sacred trust.

The military has made great strides to put programs in place to reduce sexual harassment and assault. New guidance from the Secretary of the Army will do away with previous sex offenders who are still serving and allow commanders to quickly remove any future offenders.

Here at JBLM, we’ve set up the Army’s first resource center for victims to get all the help they need in one place. It’s already had a great impact, and I think we’ll see other installations follow our lead in the near future.

But it’s not enough.

Prevention of sexual assault must work on several fronts. Commanders and NCO leaders can educate, lead and prosecute vigorously, but that is only part of the fight. It’s up to the rest of us to pay attention to our battle buddies when the duty day ends.

As Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler said, if you are a bystander, you are part of the problem.

Nearly every incident of sexual assault I have seen come across my desk has involved bystanders. These were people at parties, in clubs and even at workplaces who could have prevented the assault.

Even more alarming are the cases that never get reported. The 2013 Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military estimated that about 80 percent of incidents go unreported. It’s probably safe to assume that somebody knew about most of those cases. Each of those times, somebody could have encouraged a report that could have helped a fellow Soldier and rid the Army of another offender.

As English philosopher Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

It’s time for us to stop waiting for the military to fix sexual assaults. WE have to take ownership of this problem and fix it ourselves.