Sexual Assault Not Just 'Women's Issue,' Expert Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 5, 2006 Sexual assault cannot be relegated to being regarded as a "women's issue," said Don McPherson, the keynote speaker at the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Awareness Month observance yesterday.
McPherson, the executive director of the Sports Leadership Institute at Adelphi University in New York, said relegating sexual assault to being a women's issue means "men can ignore it."
The theme of the observance this year is "Sexual Assault Prevention Begins With You." The goal of the month and of the new DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office is to raise awareness of the issue to prevent sexual assaults.
"We certainly don't want perpetrators of sexual assaults in our ranks," said Air Force Brig. Gen. K.C. McClain, commander of the Joint Task Force for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. "We think that many people don't understand (sexual assaults). We've looked at surveys, and teenagers indicate they don't understand what behaviors constitute sexual assault."
McClain said the awareness month is a chance for commanders to emphasize the problem and search for solutions. "Some of the attitudes that people come to the military with (indicate) they don't understand how actions they are taking demean their fellow servicemembers and result in sexual assaults," she said. "The goal is to help everyone begin to understand what sexual assault is and to step back and talk about how men and women interact in our society."
McClain said servicemembers must understand that all servicemembers, from both genders and all backgrounds, bring strengths to the table. "The question becomes: 'How do we maximize those strengths?'" she said.
McPherson praised DoD for stepping out on the issue and beginning to discuss it. He noticed that about half the audience at the observance was male. "That's very good," he said. "Your presence alone sends the message to your people that you think this is important."
Far from being a woman's issue, sexual assault is a men's issue, McPherson said. "More than 90 percent of the sexual assaults are men against women," he said.
He told the crowd that it is not enough to speak about preventing sexual assault, setting an example is the best way to prevent the scourge. He said children learn from their parents. Servicemembers learn from their superiors. Everyone learns from people they value and respect. If leaders exhibit behavior that does not tolerate sexual assaults, then their followers will not tolerate it either, he said.
The military academies have been a particular focus of the problem, McPherson said. Discussions have started in the academies, and the greater military is also dealing with the problem. Honor and integrity are even more important in the armed forces than in civilian life, and managing the "multitudes of people who come to serve" is key to a successful military, he said.
Installations around the world are participating in Sexual Assault Awareness Month.