SIGONELLA, Sicily (NNS) -- The top civilian leading the fight against sexual assaults in the Navy and Marine Corps visited Naval Air Station (NAS) Sigonella, May 12-14.
Director, Department of the Navy Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (DON SAPRO) Jill Loftus met with key base officials during her visit and spoke to the Sigonella community during a live radio show and follow-on interview.
Loftus' visit was focused on discussing the DOD Fiscal Year 2013 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military that was released May 1 to the Senate and House committees on Armed Services. According to Loftus, it includes lots of encouraging data.
"Reporting is up 50% across the services since last year, and up 116% in the Navy and Marine Corps over the last two years alone," said Loftus. "We think Sailors and Marines are more comfortable coming forward and trusting their chain of command to do the right thing."
Also, the reporting of male sexual assault victims in the last year has raised 165%. Loftus is quite proud of the increase in male reporting, as they are least likely to report when sexually assaulted.
"We're encouraged that males are comfortable coming forward," she said. She added that less than 1% of males nationwide report assaults.
Loftus, who answers directly to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, also shared some of the data compiled during the Department of the Navy's sexual assault survey for 2013 that ended Jan. 6.
One question in the anonymous survey asked was "Do you think your chain of command will take your complaint seriously?" Two years ago, only 31% answered yes. This year, the number increased to 97%.
"We encourage Sailors and Marines to be comfortable talking with their chain of command, but now we need to focus on making sure that chain knows how to properly respond," she said.
Loftus and the SAPRO team are working on building a training centered on how to react when a Sailor or Marine tells you they've been sexually assaulted. The training will show leaders how to recognize someone in distress and how to calmly and carefully assist them with the reporting process - if that's where they would like to go.
"We're also working on getting more victims to share their story with Sailors to help put faces on the issue. If we want to solve this problem, we need to make it personal," she said. "But it's very difficult because if you're a victim, you may not want to be put in a video and share your story."
Locally, Loftus pointed out that the Sigonella community faces a unique set of challenges compared to other overseas locations and especially compared to the United States. Sailors and Marines in Sigonella have to deal with the lowered legal drinking age, possibly being away from home for the first time and adjusting to the culture difference of living in a foreign country.
"Due to those differences, the training in Sigonella has been more tailored to prevent some of the potentially destructive decisions unique to the area," Loftus said.
Loftus also discussed the roving barracks watch that started in Sigonella in February.
"We do get a bit of pushback from personnel about standing up the roving barracks watches," said Loftus. "But they have been extremely successful across the fleet. The watch doesn't just prevent sexual assault incidents, but encourages overall safety in the barracks."
During the first weekends of the roving barracks watch in San Diego, Loftus said there were four pages of violations. The watch stopped a large group of men escorting a drunken Sailor back to her room. They also found an illegal firearm, unregistered cars and visitors. The watch is also responsible in case of fire or emergency.
While in Sigonella Loftus also met with U.S. Naval Hospital Sigonella leadership to discuss important issues concerning sexual assault prevention and how the hospital supports DON SAPRO's initiatives.
One of the newer initiatives set up is the victim's legal counsel, an idea that originally came from the Air Force. During investigations prosecutors represent the Navy, defense attorneys represent the accused, but no one was really there to represent the victim. The victim's legal counsel is now available to victims in both restricted and unrestricted reports and provides legal advice to victims.
"While victim's advocates provide emotional and psychological support, victim's legal counsel is available for an entirely different kind of support," said Loftus. "They are there to help guide the victim through the legal process and all the details of UCMJ Article 32."
Overall, Loftus wants the community to know that leadership in the Navy and the DoD are taking sexual assaults very seriously and want to bring an end to assaults in the military.
For more news from Naval Air Station Sigonella, visit www.navy.mil/local/nassig/.