By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (April 15, 2016) -- "News reports in the past included accounts of Soldiers arriving in Afghanistan who had been held down and sexually assaulted as a form of unit initiation," said Dr. Nathan W. Galbreath, Senior Executive Advisor to the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.
Dr. Galbreath provided that hazing-related anecdote following a panel discussion he participated in at the Pentagon, April 8, regarding male sexual assault.
Sexual assault against male Soldiers is more under-reported than assaults on female Soldiers, Dr. Galbreath explained. For every four women that report an assault, only one male reports.
"Our culture is focused on the idea that men are supposed to be strong ... there's a lot of concern for men about what a sexual assault means to them," said Dr. Galbreath of why the reporting discrepancy between males and females may exist. "Does being assaulted mean I'm weak? That's especially relevant for people who have spent most of their adult lives trying to be strong, putting on a uniform, and being a warrior. Also, does being sexually assaulted by a man make you gay? Victimized men have questions about their orientation. They are concerned about this because most men have never thought of themselves as anything other than straight."
Overall, DOD's most recent scientific survey indicates that during any one-year period, about one percent of men in uniform will be sexually assaulted, Dr. Galbreath said. During that same one-year period, about 5 percent of women in uniform will be.
It is important to note that the U.S. military is a unique population, with approximately six times the number of men than women in uniform. Ultimately, this means that there are more military men who have been sexually assaulted than their female counterparts.
"In 2006, we estimated there were 34,000 service members who experienced some form of sexual assault, whether that was a contact crime, like groping, or a penetrative crime, like rape," Dr. Galbreath said. "After further analysis, we realized that 14,000 of those 34,000 members were women and 20,000 of those 34,000 members were men. That was a sobering statistic."
A later, more recent study, conducted in 2014 by the RAND Corporation, showed that fewer military members were experiencing sexual assault. In 2014, about 20,000 of those surveyed had experienced a sexual assault in the previous year. Of those, about 10,500 were men, and about 9,500 were women.
The DOD survey results also showed that of the men who experienced a sexual assault, about 60 percent of the time it was another man who committed the assault. About 30 percent of the time they indicated it was a woman offender. And for another 10 percent of the time, it was multiple individuals, including both men and women acting together.
HAZING AND BULLYING
Most sexual assaults typically occur between people that know each other. Often times, situations that lead to sexual assaults begin in more social settings, often when alcohol is being served. For women, such incidents often occur off base, after duty hours. However, the scenarios that involve the sexual assault of men are often different than that, Dr. Galbreath said.
Relative to women, he said, men are more likely to experience multiple incidents of sexual assault, at the hands of multiple offenders, during duty hours or at their duty station, where alcohol is not a factor.
"This was something that for many of us stopped us cold in our tracks," said Dr. Galbreath. "This didn't look like the typical fact pattern of sexual assaults commonly portrayed in the media."
"One of the things that RAND did for us was to show our survey takers a definition of hazing," Dr. Galbreath said. "Survey takers were then asked to use that definition to indicate whether or not they would consider their experience to be at least aligned or consistent with those events we would describe as hazing. Many men endorsed that. In fact, more men than women indicated that their experience was consistent with hazing, and intended to abuse or humiliate them, rather than for some kind of sexual purpose."
Hazing that involves sexual acts or sexual contact is sometimes hard for service members to recognize as criminal behavior, Dr. Galbreath said.
When sexual offenders see that hazing, sexual harassment and gender discrimination are permissible in a unit, and that others appear to be tolerant of these behaviors, "it greenlights sexual assault for offenders," Dr. Galbreath said. "These forms of misconduct act as grooming tools for offenders to determine who their next victim might be. When sexual harassment is tolerated, it's a green light for that offender to target more people for more abuse."
Sexual assault against men also comes in the form of bullying. In such cases, an individual is targeted for sexual assault or rape as a way to "exclude or ostracize them from the group," Dr. Galbreath said.
That type of bullying involves not just sexual assault, which is used as a way to humiliate a victim, but also other forms of violence as well. Dr. Galbreath said that male victims of sexual assault are more likely than women to experience physical injuries, or threats of physical injuries, during the penetrative sexual assault. Sexual assaults are often more about violence and asserting dominance, rather than sexual gratification, he said.
"My experience in treating offenders that have done this is that most of them identify as heterosexual," Dr. Galbreath said. "But often times what they are doing is forcing their control, forcing their power over somebody, and for a group of them it is sexually arousing for them to force somebody into a sexual act. But at the core of it, their motivation is to take away somebody's right to consent and force their will on them. That's what they want to achieve from that."
Dr. Galbreath explained that while the RAND study included questions about hazing, it did not include questions on bullying -- though he expects in the future these kinds of questions will be included.
Dr. Galbreath said that in 2014, the Secretary of Defense required the military services to look at how men are experiencing sexual assault and to continue outreach to them, and to make sure medical services for survivors are aligned to the specific needs of men following sexual assault. That's been ongoing, he said.
The Secretary of Defense also asked that services advise him of the efforts they were taking to address sexual assaults on men. Dr. Galbreath said the Department has taken that information from the services for further review, and is considering that input as part of a forthcoming plan of action in FY 2016 to improve prevention and response efforts for sexual assault against men.
"Essentially, this plan of action will include a number of initiatives, like how we approach men and encourage greater reporting from them, and alter our prevention methods ... all things we're going to evaluate," Dr. Galbreath said.
One thing Dr. Galbreath said the Department has learned about male sexual assault is that the language used to describe it, and to describe those who have been sexually assaulted, has to change. "Men don't respond well to being called a victim," he said.
"If we want to increase the number of men seeking support services, our language has got to change and our approach has got to change," he said. "We'll be making those tough choices about the language we use in our sexual assault program in the forthcoming year."
Dr. Galbreath says he thinks the Department and the services have made great strides in sexual assault prevention so far. "I think that we have a number of practices that can be a benchmark for the country in terms of what we can do for people," he said. But for male sexual assault, "this is the final frontier. Civilian and military programs alike have few answers in this area and it is very difficult to discuss with survivors."
A MALE SURVIVOR SPEAKS OUT
Sgt. James Taylor, a paratrooper with the 509th at Fort Richardson, Alaska, joined the Army after dropping out of college. He ended his studies after he was sexually assaulted.
"It took me many years, eight years, to come to terms with what happened to me," he said. In college, before the Army, and at 18 years of age, he was a college football player at his school.
"I was an 'alpha male' type, I had fun, I never thought anything like this was going to happen to me," he said. He'd been invited to a party on a Friday night. "I was 18. Of course I wanted to go to a party."
At the party, he said, "it was another party, another night. A random person comes up to me and hands me a drink. I don't think anything about it. I downed that drink, and then a couple more. A few hours later, I woke up, and ... pain ... horrible pain. I was in a room I'd never seen before, with a bunch of people around me naked that I'd never known. I tried to get up and get out of the situation. But I got beat, I got beat bad. I got knocked out. I don't know what happened from then on. I woke up quite a few hours later in my car, about 75 miles away from campus."
Taylor said it was clear what had happened to him, so he made the decision to go to the hospital. He also made the decision then that'd he remain silent about what had happened to him.
"I'm going to get fixed up, and I'm never going to say a word about this again," he said,
At the hospital, he chose not to report anything, to talk to anybody, or call family members.
By the end of the school semester, he said, "I'd alienated myself away from everybody, I was hidden away. I didn't want to talk to friends; I didn't want to see family. I was just done with it. I couldn't focus on school anymore, so I dropped out. The very next day, I ran into an Army recruiter's office."
In less than a month, he said, he was off to join the Army. "I didn't want to see family; I didn't want to see friends. So, that was the greatest decision I made in my life. Joining the military has helped me out tremendously."
In the Army he joined, at the time, he said he found that sexual assault and hazing was not a topic of discussion, as it is now. At his first unit, he said, "it was kind of a shock. I thought we were supposed to be a profession of arms. So I walk in, the hazing starts, of course, you're the new guy. At that time it wasn't 'hazing,' it was just initiation into the unit. It was just the normal thing. Everybody has seen it. It was hey, what am I going to complain about if everybody had to go through it? So I went through it."
Last year, he said, he heard there was a Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention brief coming up for his unit -- required training. "Another SHARP brief -- you hear the same things over and over again," he said.
But he said it wasn't a normal SHARP brief. The presenter, Monika Korra, spoke to the audience about her own experience having been sexually assaulted. Korra will speak April 20 at the Pentagon about her experience.
"As I sat in the auditorium with about 700 other Soldiers, I wept," he said. "It became real to me. After all the years of all the pain and burying it deep down, being married and going through a divorce -- I forgot how to communicate. I was used to hiding away. I couldn't trust people."
At the end of the SHARP session, he said, he approached the presenter to share his own story with her.
"She is the very first person I opened up to," he said. "I asked if I could talk to her for a minute. I sat there and cried. She sat there and cried with me. We hugged it out," he said. "This is all in front of all my Soldiers. They had no clue what was going on. I said I just don't care anymore. This is a part of me and I need to let it be known."
After, he said, he also confided in a civilian friend who worked on the installation, and then also called his mother to talk with her.
"I called my mom. Mom's at work. I said hey, go in the conference room, there's something I need to talk to you about that's really serious. You're going to be crying. I just need to talk to you. I start talking to my mom. She's crying. I'm crying. When I get done with my story, she says she loves me and then 'here's my story.' There is something that happened to her, and she never told me."
The next day he talked to his Soldiers too, to let them know as well. He said that they are supportive. He also said that because of his own experience, and having shared it with his Soldiers, it makes them more receptive to SHARP training efforts. He said he has learned from them what it is they are looking for in SHARP education.
"We have to have leaders in place that are passionate about this," he said. "Our Solders see straight through us when it's not genuine. When you have an NCO up there giving a SHARP brief, reading off a slide deck, it means nothing to them. There needs to be passion behind it, emotion. When Soldiers see that, it becomes personal to them too. They are not stupid, they know it's important to us."