WASHINGTON, Aug. 14, 2008 – The U.S. military will debut a new strategy next year that involves troops being on guard to protect fellow servicemembers from potential sexual assaults, a senior Defense Department official said here today. The Pentagon has been developing the new strategy over the past year, and it will be implemented in October 2009, Dr. Kaye Whitley, director of the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, told American Forces Press Service and Pentagon Channel reporters today.

“Bystander intervention” means servicemembers watch out for each other to prevent sexual assaults, Whitley emphasized. “It’s very similar to what they do on the battlefield,” she pointed out. “You look out for your buddy, so let us look out for our buddy in other ways, as well.”

The military services already have elements of the bystander prevention strategy in place, Whitley said.

Another new initiative being worked involves implementation of a way for National Guard and reserve members to report sexual assaults anonymously, Whitley reported. Active-duty troops already have the restricted reporting option, Whitley said. This policy allows servicemembers to get the benefit of counseling and other services without triggering an investigation. About 1,800 sexual-assault victims came forward after the restricted information policy took effect for active-duty servicemembers, she said.

“I believe that that is 1,800 people who would not have come forward otherwise,” Whitley said. “Those 1,800 people got counseling, medical care and assistance.”

Whitley said reserve-component members had been required to fill out official paperwork reporting sexual assaults, a process that destroys all confidentiality. A change in the works will eliminate the requirement to fill out such forms, she said.

These and other issues, Whitley said, were discussed among some-300 attendees at the department’s annual sexual assault response coordinators’ conference that was held July 22-24 in Tampa.

The effectiveness of the department’s sexual assault prevention program, Whitley said, ultimately depends upon the quality of the coordinators and their relationships with military commanders.

“I would go as far to say that the program is only as good as the sexual assault response coordinator,” Whitley said.

The second part of program success, she noted, is predicated on the level of participation by commanders. “This is a command program, and we have to have command support for this program to work,” Whitley said. “Where we see it work best is when the [sexual assault response coordinator] and the commander work in unison.”

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