Moving Prevention Forward
here are countless experts working toward more innovative and effective ways to reduce sexual assault in our culture, and more specifically, in the U.S. Military. Alteristic is proud to be counted amongst those experts and we admire the work being done across the field.
We take a bold, non-traditional approach to prevention and it’s working. When we are invited to highlight what we have spent years determining are the vital and active ingredients necessary for effective prevention, we jump at it. Especially when that invite comes from Congress.
On Thursday, July 11th, 2019, the Bipartisan Congressional Task Force to End Sexual Violence, led by Representatives Annie Kuster (D-NH), David Joyce (R-OH), Jackie Speier (D-CA), and John Katko (R-NY) hosted a round table discussion on Military Sexual Trauma (MST). They invited expert witnesses including our own Dr. Dorothy Edwards, Founder and President of Alteristic.
The round table was convened in response to a May 2019 DoD Report that found 20,000 incidents of unwanted sexual contact occurred in the U.S. military in 2018, an increase of 38% from 2016.The question posed to a highly regarded group of experts was essentially: Where do we go from here?
Expert witnesses shared smart, well-researched ideas on what is working and what is not working in both sexual assault response and prevention across the services. Dr. Edwards challenged members of Congress to reconsider what they think they know about fixing this problem. She asked them to take the opportunity to support a comprehensive, innovative approach to prevention for which the foundation is just now being laid.
Dr. Edwards explained that after reading the DoD report, her first thought was for the victims and their families; but, that thought was quickly followed by a “wave of panic that top level decision makers, including congress, were going to have a knee jerk reaction that was going to derail real progress that is actually finally taking hold in building the foundation for prevention.” A public report showcasing a rise in the number of assaults becomes a critical incident for decision makers who often feel pressure to provide answers immediately, even if those answers will not contribute to progress, even if they are not in-line with the latest research, and even if they may unintentionally contribute to greater fatigue and resignation around the issue. Dr. Edwards urged members of the Task Force to instead consider the following four recommendations:
- The military (like its civilian counterparts) needs additional time. For the first several decades, the effort to reduce sexual assault was focused on response. We are now in the midst of building the foundation for prevention. DoD SAPRO now has a dedicated Sexual Assault Prevention Highly Qualified Expert and a prevention team on staff, they have produced a Prevention Plan of Action for 2019 – 2023, and they are building a certified prevention workforce across the services. Dr. Edwards stated that “the most detrimental thing that can happen is for that progress to be derailed.”
- Congress and military leadership must ensure services are implementing evidence-based, sustainable prevention strategies that align with the most current research, and ensure those strategies are being evaluated. Dr. Edwards pressed Congress to, “be careful with overly prescriptive legislation that is not necessarily informed by the most recent research,” and added that accountability should only be provided by prevention experts.
- Adequate resources. The top priority should be a funded mandate for a prevention workforce across the services. Most current SAPR personnel are highly trained and competent in advocacy and response, but lack the adequate capacity, support, and resources to do effective prevention.
- Leadership with the courage to provide adequate time for successful prevention efforts. Leadership cycles run quickly in the military and leaders can be tempted to make decisions that show short-term “success” (those knee-jerk reactions) that are well-intentioned, but will not result in long term gains. Dr. Edwards advised that we need leadership with the courage to say, “I may not be able to take the credit for the final success [of prevention], but I will know that the foundation of that success is my legacy.”
While it feels virtually impossible to determine the level of impact Dr. Edward’s testimony had on those members of Congress present, I’m proud of the stance she took in challenging them to move comprehensive, effective prevention forward with intention. Though we may be bold in our prevention efforts – sexual assault is bold in its human cost and sustainability. What choice do we have?