By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (May 09, 2012) -- In the Army's fight against sexual harassment and assault, Soldiers cannot be passive. They must recognize and confront other Soldiers engaged in offensive behavior or who may sexually assault someone.
"We need to eliminate the prevalent bystander mentality," said Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno. "It's intolerable to me that there are people that see sexual harassment or circumstances that could lead to sexual assault, and choose to turn the other way."
Odierno spoke May 8 before the 2012 "I. A.M. Strong Sexual Harassment/Assault Prevention Summit," just outside Washington, D.C.
Odierno said passive bystanders who do not assist those who they think might be at risk of sexual assault, and who aren't willing to confront those who might offend, are part of the problem.
"When you have a Solider that sees a situation where there is high potential for either a sexual assault or sexual harassment happening -- say it's on a weekend, you're out at a bar, or you see somebody coming back to the barracks -- and you have a feeling that something (might happen), you intervene and make sure it doesn't and make sure all the parties involved understand how serious this is," Odierno said.
The general said that Soldiers must be empowered to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment from happening in the first place and that taking care of fellow Soldiers is part of being in the Army.
"It's about Soldiers taking care of Soldiers," he said. "We're supposed to be there for each other all the time; whether we're fighting in Afghanistan, or we're at home, we have each other's backs. We have each other's rights and lefts. We are there to help them, and we should never tolerate somebody else who is not living up to that standard."
Odierno said females make up about 14 percent of the force, but about 90 percent of the victims for violent sex crimes. He also said there are 2.5 cases of sexual assault per 1,000 Soldiers, a number roughly equivalent to one squad within a brigade combat team.
"Those are just the victims that choose to report," he said. "There are so many that do not feel comfortable to report."
Some of those victims are embarrassed to report, he said. Some fear of retribution by the chain of command. "They believe the boys club will take over and not protect them if they come forward. That is not tolerable to me."
It's not just Soldiers that Odierno believes must be responsible for curbing sexual assault and sexual harassment in the Army. Commanders, too, have been tasked with broader responsibility.
Commanders must establish a command climate of trust and accountability, and they must reinforce that with education and training, Odierno said. They must also conduct assessments using command climate surveys to sustain the right climate in commands.
"I'm going to ask that every commander must conduct a command climate survey within their first three months, again at six months following, then every year," Odierno said, adding that command climates must be established that are open and transparent.
Commanders must also ensure that Soldiers who are the victims of sexual assault or harassment must feel comfortable reporting those crimes.
"We must develop those climates that make it easy and make people believe that when they report a crime, action will be taken," he said.
"There are few things that I believe are more inconsistent with our Army values than this," Odierno said. "Our Army faces many threats and risks. But these specific threats emanate from within our own corps. They have a corrosive effect on our unit readiness, team cohesion, command environment, and trust of Soldiers and family members. We must make every single effort to take care of and protect each other. That's what we do, that's who we are."