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Department of Defense Press Briefing on the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Annual Report

Presenters: Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office Director Major General Jeffrey Snow; Colonel Alan Metzler and Dr. Nate Galbreath, the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office; and Dr. Elizabeth P. Van Winkle, Defense Manpower
January 10, 2014
LIEUTENTANT COLONEL CATHERINE WILKINSON:  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  Thanks for being here on this icy, rainy morning.  I'm pleased to introduce Major General Jeffrey Snow, the new director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO).  He's been on the job all of five days.  He's joined today by Colonel Alan Metzler, the SAPRO deputy director, Dr. Nate Galbreath, the highly qualified expert from SAPRO, and Dr. Elizabeth Van Winkle from the Defense Manpower Data Center.
 
General Snow is going to make some brief opening remarks.  Then we'll open the floor to your questions.  Colonel Metzler and Dr. Galbreath are the experts in SAPRO on the reports; Dr. Van Winkle is the expert who conducted the focus groups at each of the academies, so they're happy to answer your questions.
 
Please state your name and your media organization before asking your question, and we've got 30 minutes.  Sir, the floor is yours.
 
MAJOR GENERAL JEFFREY SNOW:  Thanks Cathy.
 
Well, good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  As Cathy indicated, my name is Major General Jeff Snow, and I'm the director of the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, SAPRO.  I feel very fortunate to be joined by my esteemed colleagues here.
 
Today, we publicly released the Department of Defense Annual Report to Congress on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies for Academic Program Year 2012 to 2013.  I'm going to take a few minutes to share highlights of that report and then open it up to questions from you.
 
This report provides an assessment of the effectiveness of the academies' programs, statistical data, and the results of focus groups of cadets, midshipmen, faculty and staff conducted by the Defense Manpower Data Center.
 
Before I get into the specifics of the report, I want to make one point clear.  Sexual assault is a crime and has no place at the academies, just as it has no place in our own forces.  The academies are where we develop the future leaders of the military.  That is why it is essential that the department instill in its future leaders a commitment to fostering a climate of dignity and respect, where cadets and midshipmen are empowered and possess the social courage to take action when faced with situations at risk for sexual assault, sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior of any kind.
 
The department's assessment found that each of the three military service academies are compliant with our policies regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault for the school year that started in June 2012 and ended in May 2013.  The academies instituted new initiatives during the year to enhance training, improve awareness and promote a safe environment for all cadets and midshipmen.  These measures are detailed in the report, and we can address the specifics if you have follow-up questions.
 
During this academic year, reports of sexual assault decreased at two of the three academies when compared to the previous academic year, with an overall total of 70 reports involving at least one military victim or military subject.  Of those 70 reports, 53 were made by cadets and midshipmen for events they experienced while they were in military service.
 
Because there is no prevalence rate available for the past school year, the department cannot determine whether the decrease in reporting this year at the service academies was due to fewer assaults occurring or due to fewer victims opting to report.  Rates of unwanted sexual contact and harassment will be updated via survey conducted later this year.
 
As part of our assessment, faculty and staff participated in focus groups along with cadets and midshipmen at each of the academies.  During these focus groups, participants believed that reports of sexual harassment or sexual assault would be taken seriously by academy leadership and dealt with appropriately.  That's good.
 
Cadets and midshipmen also identified peer pressure as a barrier to reporting.  That's not good.
 
In both the academic year which concluded this past May and intervening period, we have seen considerable energy and emphasis placed on the service academy sexual assault prevention and response programs.  Still, there's more work to be done.
 
The continued advancement of a cadet and midshipmen culture that embraces dignity and respect for all is critical to the success of these ongoing efforts.  To continue this important work, Secretary Hagel has directed the academy superintendents to implement the following initiatives.
 
First, to ensure unity of effort and purpose, the service academy superintendents will implement sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention and response strategic plans that are aligned with their respective service strategic plans.  
 
Second, to improve the effectiveness of policies and programs, superintendents will involve cadets and midshipmen and command climate assessments and implement metrics and assessment tools to evaluate and regularly report progress in prevention and response.  
 
Third, to increase a victim’s confidence associated with reporting, the superintendents must develop and implement solutions that address concerns of social retaliation amongst peers, engage with leaders and supervisors of teams, clubs and other cadet and midshipmen organizations, and provide cadet and midshipmen influencers with the skills and knowledge to strengthen their ongoing mentorship programs.  
 
Fourth, to further increase understanding of the impact of disrespectful and criminal behaviors, the superintendents will develop learning objectives and incorporate them in related classes within the academic curriculum.  
 
Finally, to improve the safety of cadets and midshipmen, and reduce the risk posed by alcohol, the superintendents will review and expand institutional alcohol policies to address risk factors beyond individual use of alcohol, including availability of alcohol, training providers and community outreach.  The academies will report their -- will report their plans to the secretary of defense by the 31st of March 2014.  
 
In closing, the department and its leadership remain committed to strengthening the professional climate across the armed forces where the cultural imperatives of mutual respect and trust, team commitment and professional values are reinforced to create an environment in which sexist behaviors, sexual harassment and sexual assault are not condoned, tolerated or ignored.  That is our objective across the total force, it is my mission as the department's new director of SAPRO, and it is our objective at the military service academies.  
 
And with that, I'll just say thank you and look forward to taking your questions.  
 
Please.
 
Q:  Thanks.  Thom Shanker with the Times.  Thanks for your time today.  
 
MAJ. GEN. SNOW:  Sure.
 
Q:  You mentioned that the numbers were down at two of the three academies.  Can you give us academy-by-academy numbers?  And also, can you tell us, if possible, the reported incidents, were they student-on-student or some of them faculty- or supervisor-on-student?  
 
MAJ. GEN.  SNOW:  Yeah, thanks, Thom.  Let me -- let me take the first part of that question, and then I'm going to have Dr. Galbreath talk to the second and maybe Dr. [Van Winkle].
 
With regard to the reports, the breakdown by academy, in the case of the United States Military Academy, they decreased by five, so there were -- so there were 15 in academic program year '11-'12, and that went to 10 in academic program '12-'13.  
 
In the case of the Naval Academy, they increased by two.  So they went from 13 in '11-'12 to 15 in '12-'13.  
 
And in the case of the Air Force Academy, they decreased by seven.  They went from 52 in academic program year '11-'12 to 45 in '12-'13.  
 
And, Nate, if you could, if you could talk to the second part of that question.  
 
DR. NATE GALBREATH:  Yes, sir.  The vast majority of the 58 reports that we had all total that involved cadets -- midshipmen on cadet, on midshipmen, were just between them.  We had only one instance of a faculty member involved in a case of abusive sexual contact at the Naval Academy.  And for the details on that, I would refer you to the Naval Academy.  
 
Q:  Courtney Kube with NBC News.  Hi.
 
MAJ. GEN. SNOW:  Hi.
 
Q:  Two questions.  The -- is there -- do you have any data for the Naval Academy specifically, since their numbers went up, whether there was any kind of a similar increase in female midshipmen?  Are there -- like, is the percentage up, as well, for men versus women?  I don't know if that's something that you track.  
 
And then, also, can you just give us a rough idea of how you are defining sexual assault for this report?  Is it more than an actual rape?  Is it (inaudible) categories?  
 
MAJ. GEN. SNOW:  Yeah.  Let me say (inaudible) I mean, the first answer is, one, you know, we -- we -- we know in the case reports -- first of all, sexual assault, we know it's an underreported crime.  And one of those priorities is, in fact, to increase the reporting, because that does a number of things for us.  
 
I'm going to let Nate talk to the specifics.  
 
DR. GALBREATH:  Absolutely.  So the numbers of women at the Naval Academy are about the same as they were in years prior, but to be completely accurate, I would encourage you to check with their public affairs officer there for exact numbers.  
 
But as far as -- the second part of your question was, again?  
 
Q:  If you could just sort of give us the -- how you're defining sexual assaults in the report? 
 
DR. GALBREATH:  Ah, okay.  Sexual assault in the Department of Defense represents a range of crimes between adults, and that range involves unwanted -- illegal sexual touching, non-penetrating crimes, like groping, all the way up through penetrating crimes, like rape.  
 
Q:  So it does not include sexual harassment, right?  
 
DR. GALBREATH:  It -- the definition of sexual assault does not include sexual harassment.  That's correct.  
 
MAJ. GEN. SNOW:  Good question.
 
Q:  General, Colonel Metzler, is there anything in the report that suggests why the Air Force had the most incidents?  And I believe the previous year they had the most incidents, as well.
 
And, Dr. Van Winkle, is there anything to suggest from your focus group work why this is so with the Air Force Academy?  
 
MAJ. GEN. SNOW:  Good question.  
 
COLONEL ALAN METZLER:  The Air Force reporting climate is very positive, and that's what we've heard in numerous visits there.  And Dr. Galbreath participated in those visits and can give you some specific examples.  
 
DR. GALBREATH:  One of the things that the Air Force Academy does exceptionally well is they have a sexual assault response coordinator (SARC) who is very well-known throughout the academy.  Her -- she and her team work overtime in getting in front of the cadets.  And just as an example of my experience with them, asking an academy cadet at the Air Force, if you needed to report a sexual assault, what -- what would you do?  Almost every single one of them, in my experience to a T, says, oh, I'd call 333-SARC.  That's her number.  They all knew her by name, and they -- because she gets in front of them within the first weeks that are there.  
 
Elise, did you have a follow-up?  
 
DR. ELIZABETH P. VAN WINKLE:  Well, I don't that the -- we didn't ask specifically about that -- the numbers, but to echo what Dr. Galbreath said, we did hear that at the Air Force they are more familiar with their SARC.  They feel more comfortable with her.  She has higher visibility.  So that is something that we heard, but didn't speak specifically to that.  
 
Q:  What's her name?
 
DR. GALBREATH:  Teresa Beasley.  
 
MAJ. GEN. SNOW:  I will say that one of the benefits, I think, though, of a report -- and when you're looking across service academies, is that you -- you can take this -- what we've identified as a best practice and then -- and then recommend it and apply it across the other academies.  
 
DR. GALBREATH:  And that's very true, sir.  All of the -- all of the academies have very strong people in their -- in their SARC offices.  And we called that out, and we really do appreciate all the hard work that's going on everywhere.  It's just that over time that Mrs. Beasley has been there the longest, I think, of all the SARCs, and so she has a very good institutional history with Air Force Academy.  
 
MAJ. GEN. SNOW:  Yeah, good.  Please?  
 
Q:  Hi, Kristina Wong from The Hill.  Can you tell us more about these cases?  Are there any trends or generalizations you can make for these cases?  Is it mostly male and female?  And then, secondly, what -- what are some examples of sexist behaviors that you will target?  And how will these be addressed, as far as you know?  
 
MAJ. GEN. SNOW:  I'm going to tell you that, yes, it is more the case of men on women, but I'm going to defer to Dr. Galbreath again.  And, actually, I think it will be helpful to [Dr. Van Winkle] fill out in terms of some of the comments you saw in the focus groups.  
 
DR. GALBREATH:  Yeah, it is male on female, largely.  We only had, I believe, two instances of male on male violence.  Essentially, these are folks that are peers or near peers, and almost every single one of the cases that we had were cadet on cadet.  
 
Elise?
 
DR. VAN WINKLE:  In terms of sexist behavior, the survey which we conducted in 2012 has a few measures, sexual harassment being one of them, and that involves crude and offensive behavior, unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion.  
 
We also ask about sexist behaviors, and these would be verbal and nonverbal behaviors that would be insulting or offensive based on someone's gender.  So, for example, "Women don't belong at the academy," or similar type comments.  
 
The rates for crude and offensive behavior -- this is your typical locker room talk -- and for the sexist behavior, on the survey in 2012, those were high, particularly for women, around 80 percent to 90 percent of women indicating that they had experienced that in the last 12 months.  
 
So when we did go out to do the focus groups, we asked a bit more about whether those rates seemed about right.  And the feedback we got was that, yes, they -- they seemed about right and, in fact, many said we're surprised it's not higher.  So this is where we started to see that culture that we -- that we've been discussing (inaudible)  
 
MAJ. GEN. SNOW:  I'd like to just follow up on that, is that, one, you know, as I -- as I listen to that, I want to make it clear that, you know, no one should believe they must tolerate this part of behavior as part of their education, you know, and especially as part of their learning to be an officer in the United States forces. 
 
DR. GALBREATH:  And just to underscore that, to make it clear is, why do we look at this experience of -- of sexual harassment and sexist behavior?  I mean, of course, those behaviors are intolerable, and we don't want that to occur there.  
 
But there is a strong, positive correlation between the experience of sexual harassment and the eventual sexual assault of people in military units.  And so we think that, because these two problems are on the same continuum of harm, getting at that sexual harassment, the crude and sexist behavior, is part of the prevention work that goes into sexual assault.  
 
Q:  (OFF-MIC) answers now, but how do you think you can attack those -- crack down on the crude behavior?  
 
DR. GALBREATH:  That's something that the secretary has directed the superintendents to take a look at.  Nobody knows their academies better than the -- than the superintendents.  And so we are going to be standing behind, we're there for consultational purposes, but we have -- the secretary is going to be directing the superintendents to take a look at that and innovate solutions.  
 
Q:  Sir, Jim Garamone with American Forces Press Service.  It sounds to me like you really -- what you really want to institute is generational change.  I mean, Harry Truman integrated the armed forces in 1948.  There are people that would say we're still in the process of that some 70 years later.  And I'm just wondering if you would comment on that.
 
And the second thing I would ask you to -- to comment on, are these cadets and midshipmen coming in from civilian world?  What -- what effect does the civilian society have on these kids, as -- as they're going to these institutions?  
 
MAJ. GEN. SNOW:  First of all, I just -- listen, this is a complex problem, and it's going to require a complex set of initiatives, solutions, innovate -- I mean, it's -- it's a tough thing, and it is going to take time.  
 
In terms of the cadets themselves, I mean, I think the really key is from day one to impart them with the -- you know, the appropriate values.  I mean, at the service academies, you are talking about the best and brightest, very competitive to get in there, but yet I think the key is, from day one, what are those values that -- you know, that we try and impart upon them so that they get off on the right foot.  
 
And then for -- I'll open it up to the panel, if there's something you'd like to add to that.  
 
COL. METZLER:  Jim, you hit on the department's approach to solving sexual assault writ large.  We do aspire to be a national leader, to lead change, generational change, just like we did with integrating the armed forces.  We've done it with anti-discrimination.  We've done it with the repeal of "don't ask/don't tell."  And we intend to impart a set of values and expectations and standards of behavior, and that's how we've led change in these other cultural issues, and that's how we intend to lead change here.
 
And we recognize this continuum of harm that Dr. Galbreath referenced, that the environment in which assault -- or harassment and sexist behavior and crude and offensive behavior happens in the environments in which assaults occur.  And so we have to start on the low end of that continuum of harm, create that non-permissive environment, detect offenders, conduct complete and total independent investigations, and that's what we do, and then hold offenders appropriately accountable.  
 
And that is the stated end state for this department to achieve and to prevent this crime, by establishing the cultural imperatives of team commitment, professional values, and dignity and respect across the force.
 
And then at the service academies specifically, leading your peers is probably the hardest thing you have to do, and sticking your neck out and telling someone to knock it off is a difficult thing, because, you know, it creates social retaliation.  That's what we heard in the focus groups, and we want to teach our future leaders, those officers that have to lead from day one and enforce standards, that they need to do it at the service academies and they need to do it in the armed forces, as well.  
 
LT. COL. WILKINSON:  We have time for one last question.
 
Q:  (OFF-MIC) from Politico.  General Snow, this is your first press briefing since you have moved over.  Could you talk a little bit broader about implementing the two dozen or so changes that were in the NDAA on sexual assault?  And for Colonel Metzler, as well, I mean, what are the benchmarks that you're actually doing to implement everything that was in -- in the law that President Obama just signed?  And then you've got a December deadline to really make significant changes, as the president said.  What are your benchmarks to actually achieve that?  
 
MAJ. GEN. SNOW:  Yeah.  Well, thanks, a very good question.  So the first thing -- and I -- and I will defer to -- to Alan on this particular question.  And number one you know, what am I doing?  The first thing I'm doing is, there have been a number -- as you indicated, a number of directives that have been put in place.  And so the first thing I'm doing is making sure I fully understand and that we, the department, are taking the appropriate steps to implement them.
 
And so that's -- I'll say that about that.  With regard -- you know, you alluded to the report, and with regard to that, I mean, one, what we are doing there is we're making sure that we understand what the requirements of that are and then working with the White House on ensuring that we've got a clear plan forward to make sure we meet that requirement.  
 
COL. METZLER:  Darren , to talk about implementation, we've taken a strategic approach, as you know.  We published a strategy last year.  The secretary required that each of the services establish a strategy consistent with the five lines of effort that we have published.  
 
We have very clear benchmarks in each -- we have a number of tasks, 80 to 90 tasks in our strategic plan.  What we do is we get external findings, external suggestions, and we have the authority to act, the secretary is acting and we are implementing policy.  
 
We take the National Defense Authorization Act initiatives.  We apply them in the lines of effort, the prevention, investigation, accountability, victim assistance and oversight lines of effort, and we have a very robust oversight structure that includes weekly meetings with the secretary of defense.  He calls them his accountability meeting, because he's holding the entire department accountable to implement the policy that he directs and that Congress passes into law.  
 
We -- we hold joint executive councils with the Joint Chiefs.  And General Snow chairs a bimonthly integrative product team that provides daily oversight of the implementation.  We've had 60 provisions of law over the last three years.  They're all tracked and they're aggressively implemented.  And then we report those out through metrics, and we are working with the White House on metrics, and Dr. Galbreath could talk a little bit more about the direction we're going with our metrics.  
 
DR. GALBREATH:  The -- we've prepared the first set of six metrics that have been through the Joint Chiefs and received the approval of both the Joint Chiefs and also the Office of the Secretary of Defense.  We'll be providing those to the White House here within -- within the next week.  And over the next few months, we'll be developing a number of -- a secondary set of metrics that get more at prevalence and culture change.  
 
MAJ. GEN. SNOW:  Good question.
 
LT. COL. WILKINSON:  Sir, do you have any closing comments?
 
MAJ. GEN. SNOW:  I do.  Thanks, Cathy, and thanks for being here.  
 
I just wanted to conclude by making a couple points.  I mean, one, you know, my -- my mission is clear, reduce with the intent to eliminate sexual assault in our military.  It's a daunting task.  I've lost a lot of sleep in my first week on the job.  But I'm committed to accomplishing the mission.  
 
As you can see, by the folks just on this table, the good news is that I'm supported by a dedicated team and a group of professionals both inside and outside of the department that want to do the same thing.  
 
There's going to be -- there's going to be days when we present bad news to you.  There will be others when we're able to demonstrate progress on the problem.  Either way, I am committed to communicating our findings, results and progress in a candid and transparent manner.  
 
The department will continue to assess the effectiveness of our programs, as Alan indicated, in terms of preventing sexual assault, investigating the crime, providing effective assistance and support to victims and then holding our military accountable for progress on this issue at the service academies and throughout the entire department.  
 
It is clear from this report that we must expand and improve the prevention efforts that are having a positive impact throughout each of the academies and our services.  We'll continue to implement programs and initiatives that make a difference in addressing how victims are treated.  
 
And, lastly, for those of you who have been a victim of this crime, I want you to know that we are working to -- very hard to establish a climate where these assaults do not happen.  If you have been a victim, please consider reaching out to your local SARC, victim advocate, a health care professional, or the DOD safe help line.  I assure you, you will be treated with the privacy you desire, the sensitivity you deserve, and the seriousness that this crime demands.  
 
Thank you very much.