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Navy personnel assigned to ships most at risk for sexual assault, report says

Sailors man the rails on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) as the ship arrives at Naval Station Norfolk. (Mass Communication Specialist Andrew Schneider/U.S. Navy

Sailors assigned to ships are the most at risk of being sexually assaulted in the Navy, though not all of those assaults happened aboard a ship or were committed by a member of their crew, according to a report released Friday.

The Rand Corporation report was commissioned by the Defense Department to examine risk of sexual assault at bases and commands around the world.

The report is based on sexual assault reports from 2014 and comes with plenty of caveats. A sexual assault reported by someone who works on a base or ship could have occurred while a sailor was on leave in their hometown, on a liberty leave in a foreign port or in the ship’s own home port community. The assault also could have happened before a sailor joined the Navy and the perpetrator could have been a civilian.

“In short, the estimates document the one-year prevalence of sexual assault for groups of personnel defined by their duty installation and duty major command; they do not document where the sexual assaults occurred or who committed the assaults,” the report said.

In developing its risk estimates, the report also didn’t take into account the demographics of those who work at an installation or on a ship. Across the services, medical centers like the naval hospital in Portsmouth were among the least at risk.

The report noted that personnel assigned to Naval Station Norfolk reported more sexual assaults than at any other naval installation. But the report says for a base its size, there were 64 fewer assaults reported than would be predicted based on the demographics of personnel at the installation. Women at Naval Air Station Oceana were also among the least at risk.

“The Navy has further engaged with RAND to help us take a closer look at the conclusions of this report by conducting follow-on projects to provide more actionable information about where sexual assault risk is highest and lowest in the Navy,” the Navy said in a statement. “This information will be vital to us in determining where and how to target training, prevention and response resources.”

The Navy has been trying to eradicate sexual assaults from its ranks for years with mixed success. The most recent survey showed that in the 2016 fiscal year, the number of sailors who reported unwanted sexual contact declined to 5,300 from 7,400 in the 2014 fiscal year. But at the same time, the number of sexual assaults reported has grown from 1,295 in the 2014 fiscal year to 1,585 in the 2017 fiscal year. The Navy attributes that growth, in part, to more people feeling comfortable coming forward.

Advocates note there’s more work to do.

The report found that of the 15 highest-risk installations for Navy women, 13 are ships or clusters of ships, including eight aircraft carriers. Rand estimated that more than 10 percent of all women experienced a sexual assault at each of the high-risk installations over a one-year period. Japan and Naval Support Activity Charleston in South Carolina were the only physical installations to crack the top 15. Personnel assigned to aircraft carriers were also at a high risk of sexual assault for male sailors, the report said.

“The Navy needs to acknowledge that ships require extra effort to prevent sexual assault and to deal with its aftermath. This should be an item for the leadership of every ship to pay close and continual attention to. … Navy commanders who commanded highly problematic ships should not be promoted or given even greater responsibilities,” said retired Navy Capt. Lory Manning, director of government relations at Service Women’s Action Network.

The Rand report offered a snapshot in time. Many installation and ship commanding officers, as well as their crews, have moved onto other assignments by now. But Rand recommends that the services should investigate the conditions that lead to patterns of sexual assault risk.


© 2018 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

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