Combating sexual assault and sexual harassment is about leaders stepping up at all levels of command, Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman said.
Troxell spoke as DOD released its annual report on sexual assault in the military that shows the prevalence of sexual assaults against active-duty women increased for the first time since fiscal year 2012. The statistics indicated the problem is particularly acute for women ages 17-24.
The sergeant major said leaders are key to combating sexual assault and sexual harassment. DOD has programs to help victims, but leadership is needed to ensure sexual assault and sexual harassment don’t happen in the first place.
Young service members are the most vulnerable because they are entering a strange new world, he said. They may be overseas for the first time. They are in a unit with a bunch of strangers, and they are away from family and friends.
“It is the leader’s responsibility — especially at the junior level — to make them feel comfortable in this new environment,” Troxell said. “They have to understand what is expected of them as a new trooper … and then they have to understand what leaders are going to do to help them set up and be successful. This goes back to reception and integration of new troops and if we get that right on the front end, that E-1 to E-4 — the most vulnerable population — will continue to thrive and grow.”
Young men and women need to know that if something is not right in the organization or something has happened to them, they can freely bring it up to leaders who will act on their concerns, the sergeant major said.
“There is no substitute for engaged, caring [leaders] that can pick up on nonverbal cues in their service members that something may not be right,” he said. “[Leaders] are not afraid to enforce a standard of behavior of members of the organization when it is counter to the values that we have in the Department of Defense.”
A healthy command climate means that everyone in the command is treated with dignity and respect, Troxell said. There are appropriate lines of separation between leaders and those they lead, he said.
Discipline often breaks down because there are blurred lines between leaders and the service members they are charged to lead, Troxell said. “When leaders are more worried about being popular than being trusted and respected,” he said, “then that line breaks down, [and] that can lead to instances where sexual assault can happen.”
Commanders have to clearly define what is expected through their vision and priorities, Troxell said. Senior enlisted leaders must take the pulse of the organization, he said, and ensure everyone down to the newest individual understands the commander’s intent and operates within that guidance.
“As a leader, minding your business is not allowed,” Troxell said. “As a leader, you have a responsibility to be engaged with your service members. This has to be all in.”
The greatest advantage the U.S. military has in warfighting is “the most trusted, respected and empowered noncommissioned and petty officer corps in the world,” the sergeant major said. “We have to own this.”
Young enlisted personnel must have moral courage when it comes to identifying and stopping sexual assault and sexual harassment, Troxell said. “It takes moral courage for someone of the same rank that might see an event — especially when it comes to sexual assault or sexual harassment — to be able to stand up and say ‘This is not right,’ or to intervene,” he said.
“But we have to promote that. When it comes to us as this warrior class that is built on teams and teams of teams, minding your own business in not authorized. You have to be involved, especially when it affects one of your own teammates,” Troxell said. “Whether it is a perpetrator or a victim or an act of sexual assault happening, it has to be expected that bystanders — regardless of rank — have to intervene.”