ARLINGTON, Va. – Recognizing sexual assault as a serious threat to military professionalism and readiness, the chief of the National Guard Bureau re-emphasized the National Guard's commitment to "eradicate this scourge from our ranks," in a memorandum signed in June.
Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel wrote in the memo to Guard members that to wipe out sexual assault, the Guard has an obligation, "to establish an effective prevention-driven culture and improved system of accountability."
Air Force Lt. Col. Roxanne Toy, NGB's Sexual Assault and Prevention program division chief, said creating that culture of prevention requires a unit-based climate of trust.
"Trust is the fabric that binds the military together," she said. "We have to have a 360-degree view of trust – with our leaders, our subordinates and our peers. When trust is lost in any one of those, it's detrimental to our readiness."
While Guard members need to take initiative to model ethical and legal behavior at home and in the workplace, Toy said that behavior online is just as paramount in combatting sexual assault.
"If we tolerate online bullying, hazing and harassing, it builds a culture that could lead to sexual assault," she said.
To build a prevention mentality, Toy said, the NGB's SAPR office established the hashtag #notjustApril to generate and maintain awareness at the forefront of Guard member's minds.
"This is about year-round engagement involving prevention and bringing awareness to all levels of the National Guard while emphasizing that sexual assault is a crime not a program," Toy said.
Toy also said the Guard is transforming its approach to sexual assault prevention away from a training and checking-the-box perspective to a training perspective to walking the walk to eradicate undesirable behaviors that erode trust.
"People are numb to training," Toy said, "so we need a prevention mindset to reach everyone at all levels…strategic, operational as well as tactical levels."
In keeping with a centralized planning and decentralized execution approach, she said the NGB is currently working with the Department of Defense to create working groups that strictly address sexual assault prevention.
"We are not just focusing on response and recovery," Toy said. "Now we are moving toward prevention, looking at this from every angle with the troops in the field on how to interrupt criminal thoughts before they become criminal acts, which prevents this crime."
Each victim of sexual assault who files an official report of sexual assault is assigned a victim's advocate who facilitates care and provides referrals and support to the victim. The support, Toy added, includes providing information, and available options and resources, to allow the victim to make informed decisions about his or her case.
She said this process helps ensure sexual assault victims do not feel isolated.
"It's a very heavy feeling and victims need to know they are not alone," Toy said.
It is vital that all Guard units continue addressing the needs of the victim without losing focus on tackling the problem, she said. Creating an evidence-based prevention program will go a long way to reduce the number of victims over time, she added.
The memo from Lengyel was sent to Guard members in conjunction with a separate memo from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, highlighting the wider DoD policy of eliminating sexual assaults in the military.
"He [Mattis] remarked that combat casualties are intrinsic to our military duties, but a single casualty of sexual assault is not," Lengyel said.
The NGB memo, Toy said, reinforces the Guard's deliberate focus and support of the Defense Secretary's resolve to end sexual assault within the military, and the role each Guard member plays in supporting Mattis' expectations from the troops.
"It [the memorandum] reminds each Guard member of the role he or she must play in the fight against this crime," she said. "By forming a united front, with everyone taking positive steps to stop sexual assault and rooting out perpetrators, the National Guard can defeat this enemy."