Navy declares war on sexual harassment & assault

Friday - 6/4/2010, 7:04am EDT

WFED's Max Cacas

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By Max Cacas
Reporter
Federal News Radio

The U.S. Navy has determined that combating sexual harassment and assault in the ranks is a top work-life priority for its service members. A group representing military women who serve at sea got an update on the issue during a conference panel in Washington.

The panel was part of the 23rd annual Women's Leadership Symposium at the Sea Service Leadership Association, which concluded yesterday at the Washington Hilton hotel. The conference brings together women who serve in the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard.

Rear Admiral Michael Browne, who heads up the Navy's Personal Readiness and Community Support Branch, says it's a matter of the highest priority for the Secretary of the Navy.

As I think about managing my workplace, and what it means to be ready to serve, I need a workplace that's free of sexual harassment. It needs to be a safe environment to work in. Where I know that I'm going to work, and be able to do my job effectively.

Browne cited recent Washington Post articles on the problem of sexual harassment and assault in the military, and said top Pentagon officials are taking the problem seriously.

"The Secretary of the Navy has stood up a Department of the Navy Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office," he told SSLA members, detailing how officials in the SAPR office lay out strategies to combat sexual harassment.

Browne outlined initiatives the Navy is taking to combat sexual harassment and assault, including "bystander intervention" to train shipmates how to look out for shipmates.

Teresa Scalzo is an attorney in the Navy Judge Advocate General's (JAG) office and a specialist in sexual harassment law. She told the SSLA audience that unlike the civilian world, there are two ways in which the Navy handles sexual harassment and assault cases.

Under restricted reporting, the assault can be confidentially disclosed to SART (Sexual Assault Response Team), to a victim advocate or health care provider. You can always speak confidentially to a chaplain. That's because there's something called a "privilege" that protects what you say to a chaplain. When you make a restricted report, there is no investigation. This is all done at the victim's choice.

Scalzo went on to explain that the benefit of a restricted report is that it often facilitates medical care for the victim without the involvement of the military criminal justice system.

The other method for handling sexual assault is the unrestricted report, said Scalzo. In this case, a complaint is filed with the JAG office, which she says "allows to hold offenders accountable, it allows command involvement, so victims can be kept safe with things like protection orders."

Scalzo says the biggest challenge she faces as an advocate is balancing the rights of the accused in a sexual harassment or assault case, and the needs of the victim who is making the charge.

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