April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.
Silence doesn’t always make things better and time doesn’t always make things go away.
At an Army panel on sexual assault last year, Maj. Katie Crumby offered this stark reminder about sweeping the uncomfortable topic under the rug. Crumby, herself a sexual assault survivor, waited almost 20 years before publically discussing her experiences.
Thankfully, that inhibition seems to be changing. Many of those who have been subjected to sexual assault while serving in the military are speaking out and pushing for more open dialogue about the crime. The incidence of MST supports their voice. A 2015 Department of Defense report estimates 20,000 Service men and women experience sexual assault each year. Of those affected, only a small fraction will report an assault to DoD authorities.
These startling statistics are something advocates within all branches of the armed forces want to change.
When it comes to reporting sexual assault, nearly 80 percent of all incidents are reported by women; 20 percent by men, according to DoD. These numbers also articulate that MST affects Service members regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, rank, and branch of service. Spc. Jarrett Wright, a panelist with Crumby, was sexually assaulted during a hazing ritual. He now speaks out regularly against vicious hazing practices.
Likewise, Crumby is more open to speaking about this issue thanks to a rise in organizations and programs addressing MST. Specifically, DoD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPR), founded in 2004, which encourages dialogue, and addresses sexual assault prevention and response in all branches and formulations of the military. Each April, SAPR runs an awareness campaign to promote prevention and caring response practices. This year, SAPR adopted the theme, “Protecting Our People Protects Our Mission.”
Since the creation of SAPR, there have been clear changes in legal consequences for offenders. Significantly, the percentage of Service members court-martialed for sexual assault has nearly doubled. Prior to the office’s founding, most perpetrators of sexual assault in the military received lesser, non-judicial punishments, diluting the significance of the crime.
The Veterans Administration has also increased its efforts to provide treatment to veterans. As of 2016, every VA hospital now has an onsite specialist to help any veteran coping with sexual assault.
Through the efforts of the DoD, SAPR, the VA, command officers, and every individual Service member, the silence surrounding MST can instead become a robust dialogue of awareness, prevention, and treatment. That’s a conversation that must continue well after the April campaign is over.
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual assault, contact the DoD’s Safe Helpline by phone 24/7 at 877-995-5247 and online at www.safehelpline.org