Army must overcome 'naiveté' in addressing sexual abuse

US Army
Friday, June 14, 2013 - 11:23pm

Army leaders must overcome their "naiveté" when it comes to realizing and addressing the problem of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the ranks, said the commander of the Army's training enterprise.

"When you study the typical sort of pattern of behavior how these sexual assaults occur today, it is absolutely eye-opening," said Gen. Robert W. Cone, commander, Army Training and Doctrine Command. The general spoke with reporters during the Army's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, or SHARP, summit, June 10-11, at Joint Base Andrews, Md.

"We have worked this very hard, but where I would say we've had failures is, to a certain extent, it's been naiveté on the part of my leaders," said Cone, who said that some leaders have not been involved or aware enough or taken the "aggressive posture" to identify predators.

He said his command is a fairly unique environment, with a great power differential between those in charge and the students or recruits. Predators will take advantage of that environment, he said.

It is Cone's Training and Doctrine Command that is responsible for taking civilian recruits and turning them into Soldiers during what is commonly referred to as "basic training."

Cone said there are rigorous measures in place to prevent sexual abuse and create a safe environment for Soldiers, but despite all of that "this is literally a war that plays itself out on the ground every day."

The Army does well in education, training and programs on preventing sexual abuse, he said, but that still will not deter predators.

"This is not random behavior. This is not a mistake. It is purposeful wanton behavior by people who see opportunities and I think to a certain extent we got some eyes being opened in there (at the summit)," Cone said.

"But what I've learned is that sexual assault is more than that (having the right prevention measures in place), and below the surface is a predator, someone who views this unique environment that we have in Training and Doctrine Command," he said.

Leaders must not only have procedures in place, said Cone, but must also enforce those regulations and be vigilant.

"You have to understand that there are going to be people who are going to try to find the gaps and seams in those procedures," he said. "It is not something that my leaders can be passive about, they have to be active and they have to focus on this."

Cone used himself as an example, when he was a commander in Iraq. He had invited reporters, including female reporters, to the forward operating base. He said the journalists were warned by a female on his staff to carry a knife for protection if they walked around the base at night.

"I was stunned. I personally said 'how could I miss this?'" Cone said, adding that the issue was immediately addressed.

"If have Soldiers that are afraid to walk around the forward operating base at night, I've got problems as a leader," he said.

The Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention summit brought together a wide range of Army leaders, from non commissioned officers to general officers, in order to discuss how to meet and move forward with the goals of the SHARP program. Included among those goals are preventing sexual abuse by creating safe environments for Soldiers; providing the best care for victims; conducting fair and competent investigations; holding perpetrators accountable for crimes; and holding leaders accountable for their command climates. 

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