ROTA, Spain (NNS) -- The top civilian leading the fight against sexual assaults in the Navy brought the "No Zebras. No Excuses" training - and frank and transparent discussion - to Naval Station Rota, Spain, Aug. 26.
Director, Department of the Navy Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (DON-SAPRO) Jill Loftus spoke to the Naval Station Rota community during a live radio show and follow-on interview.
She spoke candidly about how this push against sexual assaults started, where the Navy and Marine Corps stand, why there is so much training and what lies ahead.
The increased push against sexual assaults in the Navy started in 2009, according to Loftus, when Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus stood up the DON-SAPR Office. According to Loftus, there were several things that were likely motivating Mabus, but one stands out.
"It was also pushed by reports of sexual assaults that were coming in from theater during the Afghan and Iraqi wars. There were a number of Sailors and Soldiers who had come back complaining about being sexually assaulted and no one doing anything about it," said Loftus. "So, the Department made a concerted effort to not only take care of victims, but to try to keep [sexual assaults] from ever occurring."
Part of that concerted effort has been an increase in sexual assault prevention training. Loftus said she realizes that people are feeling some training "saturation," that they feel as though they're receiving too much training. She pointed to studies that have identified individuals need 60 hours of training to fully absorb the message, and she also had direct words for anyone who feels there isn't a problem with sexual assaults in the Navy.
"I think that if someone told me that they did not think that we have a problem with sexual assaults, then I would tell them about every [situation report] that I read," said Loftus. "Every morning I read the stories about Sailors and Marines who have been sexually assaulted. It is now running four to six [reports] every day. Now, the severity may be different, but it's still somebody's life who has been affected, and somebody who is now hurting, somebody who feels betrayed, somebody who has been attacked by somebody else within their own family."
On the other hand, Loftus understands that there is some misleading data out there as well. A 2012 Department of Defense survey asserted 26,000 sexual assaults were occurring in the Department of Defense and that the majority were going unreported - a potentially alarming number, since according to DoD data, less than 3,500 had been reported in any previous year. Loftus said that this number has garnered attention, but it should not be taken out of context.
Loftus explained that of the 26,000 sexual assaults that were extrapolated from a sample survey of 20,000 respondents across the DoD, ranging from unwanted physical contact to actual violent penetration rapes, the vast majority fell into the former category.
"I think there has probably been a steady state of sexual assaults over the last three to four years," said Loftus, who went on to say that reporting is increasing and that is good. "People are feeling more comfortable coming forward. We're seeing more males coming forward, which we think is good news because they've been the lowest reporting group we've had."
Loftus also said that the majority of assaults in the Navy and the Marine Corps involve 18 to 24-year-olds; over half the time the cases involve alcohol; they are blue-on-blue and they usually occur in or around social settings.
"They are not 'Law and Order, SVU,' a stranger rape," said Loftus. "These are situations where people are partying or people are in bowling alleys and they go out to drink afterwards, or they go out in groups and alcohol becomes either a facilitator or an inhibitor for people's good judgment, which is why we look for people to intervene when they see these things happening."
Intervention is the latest push from the DON-SAPR Office, and it is the focus of the "No Zebras. No Excuses" training.
"When I first took this job, one of the things I wanted to do was to help Sailors and Marines learn about sexual assault prevention. So, I talked to Sailors and Marines and they said, 'Oh, please, please no more PowerPoint,'" said Loftus. "So, I did what Sailors and Marines do. I went on the Internet, I 'Googled,' and I looked at YouTube videos ... and I found this 'No Zebras. No Excuses,' said Loftus.
The "No Zebras" training is a theatrical presentation of skits created to bring to life examples of intimate partner violence, stalking, "gay bashing" and sexual assault, said Loftus. "And, the language is raw; the language is not language that I, myself, use, but I'm an old person. It's really aimed at 18 to 24-year-olds, and [the presenters] are 24-year-olds ... they are all trained sexual assault response coordinators and counselors. I've had complaints that there are too many 'F-bombs' in the presentation, but I haven't had any complaints from any 18- to 24-year-olds. So, as long as I am getting a message across to our more vulnerable Sailors and Marines, that's what we're going to continue to do."
Looking ahead for the Navy and Marine Corps, Loftus says training will continue to focus on bystander intervention, and new recruits are receiving at least two sexual assault prevention trainings before they leave basic training. Loftus also discussed the possible wider application of pilot programs at installations in Great Lakes, Ill. and San Diego, Calif. Sailors in those areas are receiving more training than the fleet, and the Navy has partnered with more civilian organizations to increase awareness and intervention efforts on and off installations, according to Loftus.
"We hope [Sailors and Marines] get that bystander mentality out of their system, and they are no longer just bystanders, that they are interveners. That's the whole premise of this "No Zebras. No Excuses," said Loftus. "It's almost like your nature programs ... you see a herd of zebras, sitting there drinking their water paying no attention until a lion comes up, and the lion circles the pack. Well, the pack just continues to drink their water and do nothing until one of them is taken and eaten as breakfast. And then, they look around and they think, 'Oh, thank goodness that wasn't me or anybody I know,' because, you know, they don't want to be breakfast. But, a herd of zebras turning on one lion could've prevented anyone from being breakfast. Don't sit around and be a zebra."
For more information and resources to combat sexual assault visit www.sapr.navy.mil. Sexual assault affects Navy readiness, and the Navy is committed to preventing sexual assault. Join the Navy's conversation about sexual assault on social media and help raise awareness by using #NavySAPR.
For more news from Naval Station Rota, Spain, visit www.navy.mil/local/rota/.