More Thoughts On Sexual Assault Prevention

Previously, I shared an e-mail I sent to Dr. Alan Berkowitz concering his talk at a sexual assault prevention symposium for leaders here at NSA Bahrain. I was delighted when he responded to me the very next day:
Dear 1st Sgt,
Thank you VERY much for taking the time to share your thoughts and reflections about my brief.  Your comments are very valuable and I will take them into consideration for my future talks.
I want to refer to one comment you made at the end of your note in framing my answer.
You said:
Our values are not new to us institutionally but may have never been articulated in the minds of our troops.
I think that this comment is key.  “Marine Culture” from the point of view of desired behavior, values and expected leadership qualities, does not need to be changed.  It is an admirable statement of ideas that we expect our Marines to live up to and uphold.  However, as you know, in life there is often a gap between ideals and reality and it is the “culture of the reality” that I believe needs changing, not the culture of the ideals.  I will be more careful in the future to clarify this because you are not the first Marine who has objected to my talking about “changing the culture of the Marine Corps.”  So, your point is well-taken and I will revise my language a bit to avoid this misunderstanding.
Another aspect of the issue that I will point out is something that I discussed in my brief – that while almost all Marines (and other service members) believe in and agree with their service’s core values, there may be a perception that others don’t agree and these values may then not be acted on. I think that if every Marine had a leader like you who is clear and strong about expected behavior then we would have less of a problem, but as you know, the ideal-reality gap is also true for some leaders.
I will make use of the leadership traits and principles in future talks, thank you.
FYI, I am attaching a handout that I developed for a talk for the Marine Corps for Sergeant’s Major that you might find interesting.
Let me know if you have additional thoughts or comments. And, if we are ever again in the same place at the same time please make sure that we get a chance to say hello and meet in person. (you are also welcome to call me Alan).
And thank you for your service.
I will end with “Semper Fidelis ” with the belief that what we are “always faithful” is not in need of change, but rather our faithfulness to it.
All the best
Alan Berkowitz
Alan Berkowitz, Ph.D.
HQE Prevention Advisor
Department of the Navy
Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (DON SAPRO)
As for the attached handout he mentions above:
Recommendations for Sergeant’s Major
From: USMC Senior SNCO Sexual Assault Prevention and Family Support Conference
Alan Berkowitz, Ph.D. – Subject Matter Expert and Speaker
January 22, 2010
What you can do to create a climate in your command that discourages sexual assault and supports efforts to end it?
1. Reinforce the Positive. What good things are already happening in your unit? How often have men intervened to prevent an assault? Do victims have the courage to come forward and report misbehavior? Seek out and reinforce the positive, and talk about it.
2. Believe victims. Your responsibility is to believe in the truth of a report until you have been given specific evidence that it is an actual false report. Remember that false reports account for approximately 5% of all reports. It is important that you foster a climate that believes in and supports victims, and that you speak out against and contradict all victim-blaming.
3. Understand men’s “false fear of false accusation.” Most accusations are considered to be false when in fact they are not. Thus, men have a “false fear” of being accused unjustly. Remember that someone can believe that they are being falsely accused when in fact they did not have consent.
4. Hold bystanders accountable. In every incident there are bystanders. Are they held accountable for their non-action? Create a climate in which bystanders are expected to intervene in some way and support and appreciate bystanders who act.
5. Seek out and hear victim stories. One of the best ways to understand the issue of sexual assault is to hear victim stories. Create trusting relationships and appropriate confidentiality so that victims can have the opportunity to tell you their stories.
6. Support and reinforce those working on this issue. SARC’s, VA’s and others who work on this issue are often stigmatized. In your role you can support and empower them and let others know that you value their contribution to the USMC.
7. Address the larger culture that supports assaults. Talk about pornography, sexual harassment, homophobia, seeing women as less than equal or as objects, negative attitudes towards foreign civilians, lax command culture, and other attitudes and behaviors that foster a culture that is tolerant of assault. Express your disapproval and set high expectations for what is means to be a Marine who is committed to ending sexual assault in the USMC.
Semper Fidelis,
America’s 1stSgt
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  1. Magoo, I have to admit in the past I have had a generally poor attitude concerning so called “mental health experts.” But Dr. B gave a pretty good talk so I engaged him. I think he used his jedi mind tricks on me!

  2. How can you be “more” faithful to faithfulness, if you’re “always” faithful? jedi.

    It makes more sense to me that the bottom line is accountability to the core of your beliefs and actions.

    Sexual assault is a crime that causes the victim intense fear and shame. Believing them is key. False fear of being accused is understandable, but I think, a highly invalid fear. Men of integrity will rarely not be justified if falsly accused.
    The fear the rightly accused getting away with it is more of a reality, with those having knowledge of it remaining silent and doing nothing.

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