What one Navy installation can teach the military about preventing sexual assault

A new program has reduced incidents by more than 60 percent

Recruits at the Great Lakes Navy boot camp in 2007.
(Image credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The Great Lakes Naval installation near Chicago was once the site of pervasive sexual assault.

As the Navy's only recruit-training command, the base hosts tens of thousands of junior military personnel, a cohort responsible for the majority of sex crimes in the military. Navy statistics indicate that personnel ages 18 to 24 are the most likely to be sexually assaulted, so military officials decided to use the Illinois station as a test subject where they could experiment with various methods of curbing the problem, according to The New York Times.

Thanks to a comprehensive preventative training program, the Great Lakes Naval station has reduced sexual assault by more than 60 percent. In addition, Navy officials conducted anonymous polls at the end of recruits' training to combat the problem of underreported assaults, and to paint a more accurate picture of the new program's efficacy.

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The curriculum includes several hours of training targeting various factors that increase the risk of an assault occurring. Specially trained members of the Navy, outside academics, and social workers lead the program. Recruits are given practical tips to intervene in high-risk situations. They also watch a film with a simulated rape, followed by an often graphic, group discussion.

Much of the training focuses on alcohol, which often plays a significant role in sexual assaults among midshipmen. Instructors offer tools to intervene before a boozy situation turns dangerous. The Navy also regulates the pubs on the Great Lakes base. Bartenders are now restricted to serving sailors one drink at a time. A recruit can't buy a round for friends or several drinks at once. One training officer gave his card to bartenders at every pub surrounding the base and encouraged them to remind recruits their ranking officer could be called at any time.

Reported sexual assault in the military has increased in recent years, but targeting the problem at the beginning of recruits' military careers may be a key solution. Navy stations in San Diego and Yokosuka, Japan, are now appropriating the Great Lakes program to address sexual abuse at their respective locations.

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