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Training and Education

Raise Our Voices for Prevention

Navy Recognizes Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month

Since 1775, it has been the mission of the United States Navy to protect the seas, defend commerce and engage enemies who would threaten our safety, wherever they may be. There is another, often silent, battle, however, one being fought within our own ranks that too often goes unnoticed. This month, Sailors around the world are stepping up to fight back and raising their voices for prevention.

The Department of the Defense (DOD) and Navy have joined the nation in observing Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAPM), which enhances the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Office's year-round campaign of awareness, prevention and education. This year's DOD theme is "Protecting Our People Protects our Mission." "Raise Your Voice for Prevention" is the call to action for the Navy. The theme and call to action encourage service members to speak up and help empower victims of sexual assault.

"The goal for our program is to eliminate sexual assault within the military," said Keri Wanner, a sexual assault response coordinator (SARC) for Naval Support Activity Bethesda, Maryland. "Sexual assault is not OK. Getting education and awareness out helps change people's minds; it helps get away from that victim blaming and move toward the part of believing."

These efforts seem to be succeeding. According to the DOD SAPR office, there were an estimated 26,000 cases of sexual assault in the military in 2012, with only 11 percent of the victims choosing to report. That number has dropped by nearly half, with approximately 14,900 cases and a 32-percent report rate in 2016.

"If there is sexual assault or sexual misconduct happening in any of our commands, it definitely disrupts ... readiness," said Todd Cook, special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). "It causes hostile work environments; it causes animosity among individuals who are supposed to be working as a team to forward our goals as a military. ... We realize how much of a negative impact it has on the different military communities, and I think there's a strong push on law enforcement, as there should be, to get involved and help the commands maintain the highest level of readiness they can."

Throughout the month of April, SAPR teams around the world are hosting various events - from 5K races to proclamation signing ceremonies - to inform, educate and raise awareness among service members. Additionally, Wanner said, installation SARCs will use the opportunity to ensure correct and up-to-date policy information is being utilized at each command.

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"It helps to get the information out there and lets people see our faces - see the SARCs' faces, see the victim advocates' faces - and get support from different commands and individuals," said Wanner. "It all starts with building that rapport."

It also starts with informing military members of the resources available. Wanner explained that someone who has witnessed an incident or been affected personally by sexual assault can reach out to any victim advocate or command SARC.

"Victims are coming forward that, maybe five or ten years ago, wouldn't have felt comfortable doing so," said Cook. "It's becoming much easier for people in the military to get help. We're showing people that it is an issue, that it will be addressed and not ignored by military leaders. There's also protocols put in place to help individuals who don't want law enforcement involved, which was not the case until about twelve years ago. It's a huge help to the victims because not everyone wants to go through the criminal investigation process." As a result of these efforts, he continued, people know where to find help and they're actually asking for it.

"People in the military need to understand that sexual assault does occur," added Wanner. "It's not something that isn't happening, and we're going to continue to give education and continue to advocate for individuals until we do completely diminish it. But the biggest thing I would let people know is, support the survivors. Be there for them, get them the resources they need, but I think the biggest thing is just believing them."

Editor's note: For more information on Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month events or how you can help in your community, contact your installation's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, or visit

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, the DOD Safe Helpline can provide live, one-on-one support and information. The service is confidential, anonymous, secure and available worldwide, 24/7, by click, call or text - providing victims with the help they need anytime, anywhere. Safe Helpline: 1-877-995-5247 or

To read a sexual assault victim's story of survival, check out "Standing Strong" on All Hands.