This New Navy Tool Will Help Commanders See Risk of Sexual Assault In Their Unit

The Navy is working on a new mechanism to help commanders assess the risk of sexual assault within their units — one that relies on survey results and data to better understand the warning signs of a potential problem.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker said Wednesday that the department is creating a “dashboard” containing data from multiple sources that will let leaders “assess their risk and take actions” to prevent sexual assault in their commands.

Much of the data is expected to be consolidated by late summer, but the rollout will take “a little longer” as the Navy makes changes to the data structure to ensure accessibility, he said.

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According to Harker, the tool will draw from Defense Organizational Climate Surveys, pop-up surveys and other analytics, including military justice cases or reports of sexual assault or harassment, to provide a risk analysis for a unit.

Commanders will access the information in the same place they can get particulars on units ranging from financial information to COVID data, he said.

“These are all things we’re looking to do to try to increase commanders’ ability to take action on this, so we can prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault,” Harker said. “This is something they haven’t seen yet.”

There were 6,290 reports of sexual assault across the military services in fiscal 2020, up roughly 60 from the previous year, according to a Defense Department report on sexual assault released last week.

The Navy received 1,724 reports in fiscal 2020, down nearly 3% from the previous year, due largely to the pandemic and restrictions of movement that “may have affected victim reporting,” the service said.

The Marine Corps recorded 1,181 sexual assault reports in fiscal 2020, a nearly 3% increase from fiscal 2019, that “appears to maintain a surge of reports seen [since] fiscal 2013.”

The number of sexual assaults that take place in the military is suspected to be higher than the reported data, however. A survey of military personnel taken in 2018 found that roughly 20,000 service members said they had experienced a sexual assault, but just one-third filed a report on the incident.

To address how the DoD and services handle sexual assault and harassment, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin established an independent commission to study the issues, charging members to make recommendations on how the Pentagon can fix the problem.

Earlier this month, members released their recommendations, to include removing commanders from the process of deciding whether to investigate or prosecute alleged offenders. The panel said the decisions should be handled by attorneys trained to handle sexual assault and harassment cases.

Austin said he is considering the commission’s recommendations but is consulting the service secretaries and Joint Chiefs of Staff before making a decision.

During a telephone call with reporters Wednesday, Harker did not disclose his opinion, saying instead that the department is discussing the recommendation with everyone involved, including members of Congress who have introduced bills to remove commanders and provide a pathway for victims to seek compensatory damages.

“There are elements [of the Department of the Navy] that are working with all the various stakeholders to try to make sure we come up with the best of all possible outcomes,” he said.

In addition to the commanders’ dashboard on sexual assault risk, the Navy also has introduced the “Watch List,” a summary of five signs or behaviors that indicate a risk of sexual assault in a unit, according to Harker.

Pamphlets designed to educate commanders and sailors spell out the five warning signs of risk for sexual assault in the workplace, including having coworkers who are hostile in the workplace; lack respect for one another or lack unit cohesion; demonstrate a lack of responsibility or fail to intervene when inappropriate things are done or said; discriminate based on gender; or sexually harass others.

The concept, Harker said, is based on a tool used by the nuclear forces to recognize the warning signs of issues that can lead to a catastrophic accident.

“If someone makes a disparaging comment, something sexually harassing in front of the command — the commanding officer, executive officer, that command master chief — and they don’t act on it, that is the single biggest indicator that the command is at risk for sexual assault,” he said. “[The Watch List] is basically data-driven analysis of where we’ve had sexual assault cases, the things that have been present beforehand, that can identify where we’ve got challenges.”

— Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

Related: Army Brass Noncommittal on Push to Remove Commanders from Sexual Assault Prosecution Decisions.

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