Navy Sexual Assault Prevention Training at Sea

This is a problem of culture and leadership that can't wait.


The Navy is so concerned about the sexual assault epidemic that it’s diverting sea time to talk about it.

US Navy (“Nimitz Conducts Sexual Assault Prevention Training at Sea“):

The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) is in the process of conducting command-wide Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) training.

The training is being conducted to comply with NAVADMIN 156/13 and NAVADMIN 158/13 that mandates all military service members and Department of Defense (DoD) employees must complete command-SAPR training before July 1.

With the Navy’s ongoing efforts to increase sexual assault awareness, Sailors on board Nimitz are doing their part to help erase it from Navy culture.

According to the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2012 Annual Report to the DOD, there were 425 unrestricted reports and 204 restricted reports of sexual assault made by female victims, 55 unrestricted reports and 37 restricted reports were made by male victims. If broken down, 89 percent of victims were female and 11 percent were male.

“It’s a piece of the puzzle that we must complete towards the ultimate goal of eradicating sexual assault crimes completely,” said Master Chief Electrician’s Mate Ben Rushing, a facilitator at one of the sessions on board Nimitz. “Talking about sexual assault brings the problem to the forefront so we can dissect it, understand it and get rid of it.”

The goal of the recent SAPR training is to reemphasize the Navy’s zero tolerance policy regarding sexual assault and sexual harassment, as well as review the types of reporting and services available to the victims of these crimes.

“However, unlike previous Navy-wide SAPR training, this stand down focuses more on our individual roles and responsibilities in ending this behavior within our ranks,” said Cmdr. Darrell S. Canady, another facilitator. “The audience is encouraged to play an active part in the training, helping to separate myth from reality and to identify warning signs and intervention points prior to an assault taking place. The heart of the message being if we are not part of the solution, then we are part of the problem.”

According to Rushing, the recent SAPR training is not the only way Nimitz is addressing sexual assault.

“[Nimitz is] enabling an atmosphere where frank discussions can occur in the Chief’s Mess, the Wardroom and our workcenters,” said Rushing. “This isn’t a point the finger at anyone or any group type of thing, it’s a team effort that we must embrace to solve it here on Nimitz.”

My knee-jerk reaction to this is that, surely, this sort of administrative training could be postponed until the Nimitz and its crew are at port. But, clearly, the command believes the problem is so out of hand that it simply can’t wait; thus the July 1 deadline.

There are 318,999 active duty personnel in the Navy, including 4421 midshipmen at the Academy. (Three of whom, incidentally, stand accused of sexual assault.) If all 629 accounts are true, that’s a minuscule 0.02 percent of the fleet, or 2 per 1000. Then again, only 17 percent of the active fleet, or 64,430 sailors, are women. And 89 percent of the victims, or 560, were women. That’s a rate of 9.2 per 1000. That compares to 2 per 1000 females in the United States generally, according to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Granting that the Navy skews young, this is a horrific disparity. Given the selectivity, training, and supervision sailors receive, they tend to be much less likely to get into trouble–much less commit violent crimes–than their civilian counterparts. And, yet, they’re committing sexual assault at almost twice the rate.

This is a problem of culture and leadership that can’t wait.

Correction: The original post has 5 per 1000 American females over age 12 as victims but that was the 1998-2005 rate; it’s been 1.8 per thousand since. 

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Matt Bernius says:

    And, yet, they’re committing sexual assault at almost twice the rate.

    And again, all we know about are the reported cases. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the current investigation system is stacked in favor of the offender AND that, all too often, the act of reporting a sexual assault has significant repercussions on one’s career. There’s a lot of evidence to support that women have to choose between coming forward and remaining in the service.

    The net result of this is that most likely these numbers (both for male and female assaults) represent an under-reporting.

  2. gVOR08 says:

    One must wonder if the Navy’s urgency isn’t driven more by the politics than by concern about the assaults.

  3. RM says:

    This is a serious issue. I checked your link to BOJ statistics and I read it as the 2010 statistics showing about 2 assaults on women over 12 per 1000.(1995 was 5 per 1000).

    I’d like to see statistics on the civilian number of sexual assaults per 1000 for a comparable age group as military, say 18-35 or so, rather than comparing to the general population over age 12. Don’t know if those are available.

  4. John Peabody says:

    What’s the rate of cilvilian assaults for women under 30? It might be closer to the Navy rate. Or, women under 30 when working and living 24/7 with men under 30? It’s just dang difficult to use statistics to compare things.

  5. This seems like doing something just to look like you’re doing something. Do our sailors really need training to know they’re not allowed to rape people?

    The actual problem is a command culture that condones, and in many cases actively assists, sexual predators. No amount of training is going to solve that problem.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @Matt Bernius: Reported cases are all we have for either population group.

    @gVOR08: It’s surely both.

    @John Peabody: Thus the, “Granting that the Navy skews young.”

    @RM: Agree that the overlap isn’t perfect.

    @Stormy Dragon: No, this is how military culture changes. Leadership sets the tone as to what conduct is acceptable.

  7. Rob in CT says:

    There was a speech recently from an Aussie military higher-up that I saw posted on a feminist blog that was pretty awesome. The guy literally said that if humiliating and/or harming your fellow servicemembers or others was something you wanted to do, you need to find another employer (if you can). I do believe the words used were literally “get out.”

    Culture doesn’t magically change by itself.

  8. Ben Wolf says:

    @Stormy Dragon: The U.S. Navy is one of the most hide-bound organizations on the planet. That’s not because it recruits stubborn throwbacks, but because that’s the culture people are indoctrinated into. Change is exceedingly slow and only happens when, as Dr. Joyner has written, Command throws its weight behind the effort.

    This has been a problem for a very long time that nothing has been done about. Think Tailhook.

  9. John Peabody says:

    Yes, exactly. Tailhook was…what? Twenty years ago? Us old-timers are so damn tired of hearing “This will not stand”..because that’s what we heard in 1977. and 1985. and 1991. It obviously DOES stand. So— ??

  10. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    One factor in the urgency might be that, of the Nimitz’ roughly 4,500 personnel (crew and air wing), about 300 are women.

  11. I take umbrage at characterizing this as a ‘Navy culture’. The Navy doesn’t encourage anyone to sexually assault another. There are sexual assaults in the other branches as well. Yet this isn’t a ‘military culture’ either. Sexual assaults are committed by human beings. In most countries, it isn’t a part of human culture either. It’s a crime.