Ineffective Training: Preventing Sexual Harassment and Assault

The United States military is having difficulty these days…figuring out how to gracefully bow out of the war in Afghanistan, how to not be drawn into other conflicts, how to downsize the force to a size that will still be agile and responsive enough to react quickly and with appropriate strength to crises that arise, how to help out our wounded warriors, how to deal with women in combat (yes, still working on that), and how to stop sexual harassment and abuse.
Over the last couple years there have been more and more stories of sexual misconduct in the military becoming *first and second page news.  Every year, members of the military and their civilian counterparts working for the government are required to take training targeted to identifying, preventing, and dealing with sexual harassment, among many other things.
Due to the number of reports of sexual assaults in the military making the news, in addition to the standard annual training on the subject, leaders directed commanders to provide additional training to their military and civilian employees.  Approximately ninety minutes of productivity was lost to give special attention to this issue.  Contract personnel were not included, even though, in some military organizations, they can make up as much as fifty percent of the workforce.
Now, I’m fully behind effective training to reduce and/or eliminate sexual harassment and assaults.  This hour and a half discussion of the subject isn’t the way to go.  If the lengthy (it’s longer than most) annual training isn’t getting the message across, an extra session isn’t going to do it.  I’m not saying that I have the solution, but this certainly isn’t it.  It’s simply a way for the uppermost levels of the military to assure the public that the issue is being addressed.
Maybe public flogging of those committing sexual harassment and/or assault would help.  Maybe not.
Why is it that it sounds like the military is so rife with these problems?  Is it because of the number of assault and harassment cases making news?  I wonder what percentage of the military population, civilian and military combined, has been sexually harassed and/or assaulted.  Again, not to downplay the significance of these acts, but I wonder if that percentage would be higher or lower than that reported by most colleges and universities?
Statistics show that the majority of the victims of sexual harassment and assault in the military environment are under twenty-five, which is why I mentioned colleges, but even there, it’s not the same dynamic.  You have some employment scenarios, but the college environment lends itself more to the peer-on-peer issues like sexual assault and rape, whereas the military environment encompasses the peer-on-peer, as well as the workplace dynamics of employer/employee on a much larger scale.
Another reason for the apparently higher number of sexual harassment and assaults in the military is reporting…and it is certainly the one big positive that comes from the campaign against and annual training on sexual harassment and assault.  Military and civilian personnel are encouraged to report abuse to their chain of command and/or other organizations who specialize in handling these cases.  The training may not help in the prevention, but it does provide an annual reminder of what to do if you or someone you know becomes a victim.  It also prompts everyone to step in if they see inappropriate behavior before it escalates.
There’s no doubt that even one case of sexual harassment or assault is too many for a military that needs all of its pieces to be able to trust and have faith in one another.  The number of incidents, due to highly encouraged reporting, as well as the living and workplace dynamics, not to mention the stress of wartime and deployments, certainly appear skewed higher than other walks of life, and seem to provide a steady stream of headlines for the news media, but extra training, taking employees away from the important jobs they do every day, isn’t going to fix the problem.  A better method needs to be found.
*Okay, yes, I’m old enough to know what those phrases mean.  For those younger folks who don’t understand, first and second page news would be akin to the Internet news sites stories that have large to mid-size thumbnails vs. the stories that are simply text links.  The “bigger” news stories.

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