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  • We All Have a Part in Eliminating Sexual Assault

    By Lt. Cmdr. Lori Perry and Lt. Melissa Laird, Naval Health Research Center

    SAN DIEGO – In keeping with the theme for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAPM) “Eliminate Sexual Assault: Know Your Part, Do Your Part,” the Naval Health Research Center (NHRC) hosted two events to raise awareness about sexual assault and teach practical self-defense skills to staff.

    SAAPM is intended to draw attention to the fact that sexual violence remains an intolerable violent crime which impacts mission readiness for our Navy community. Eliminating sexual assault requires every service member to be a steadfast participant in creating an appropriate and respectful culture and upholding Navy core values.
    “Every service member, from the new recruit to the flag officer, must know, understand, and adhere to Navy core values and standards of behavior in order to eliminate sexual assault and other criminal behavior,” said Lt. Melissa Laird, a research physiologist at NHRC and one of the command’s points of contact for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Program.
    Know Your Part
    Knowledge is power. Being a research command, it was only fitting that staff at NHRC hosted a poster presentation to share research findings on the topic of sexual assault. This event provided researchers at the command, who are subject matter experts in this area, an opportunity to share information with their colleagues from their own studies about this important topic.
    “Spreading awareness is a major objective of SAAPM sponsored events,” said Laird. “This starts with knowing about the great research that is being conducted here at NHRC in a number of behavioral and psychological health areas to include sexual assault, resilience, and military workplace violence.” 
    Do Your Part
    The second event was a self-defense workshop, designed to teach the men and women at NHRC skills to fend off an attack, but more importantly, how to prevent one.
    Sexual assault can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Everyone has a role in ending sexual violence. Self-defense helps individuals become more aware of their surroundings and conscious of the fact that they do not have to feel helpless in any situation.
    “The self-defense class was useful because it's not just about physically protecting yourself, but also knowing how to keep yourself out of dangerous situations,” said Lt. Cmdr. Lori Perry, preventive medicine physician at NHRC and command SAPR point of contact. “Situational awareness and how you carry yourself can be just as important as knowing how to physically ward off an attack.”
    According to Laird, self-defense class participants often report feeling more prepared in case of a violent attack or a sexual assault. They also report feeling more empowered in everyday situations - like when walking at night. Self-defense teaches tips to reduce vulnerability to attack by making participants more aware of their surroundings and teaching them how to react to a variety of situations.
    “The goal of self-defense is to provide participants with response options to an attack,” said Laird. “Parts of the class are geared specifically towards countering sexual assault. Research involving women who have survived sexual violence have shown that women who yelled, or used active physical resistance, were more likely to avoid a completed sexual assault. Of those women who reported using physical resistance during an assault, a majority reported that they felt it either helped the situation or did not make the situation any worse.”
    It is important to remember that sexual assault is never the victim's fault, even if they did not resist, adds Laird. “Only the perpetrator, the person who committed the crime of sexual assault, is at fault.”
    We All Play a Part in Preventing Sexual Assault
    In addition to self-defense, an important component of preventing sexual assault is knowing when to act – when service members witness a crime or inappropriate behavior taking place, stepping in to prevent it can stop it.
    “Each member of our Navy community has a unique role in preventing and responding to sexual assault. Bystander intervention is a key prevention approach, which involves interrupting situations that could lead to sexual assault, using both direct and indirect strategies.”
    According to Laird, although sexual assault awareness and prevention is a year-round effort in the Navy, SAAPM is a time when both military and civilian sexual assault organizations engage their respective communities in these efforts.
    “SAAPM provides an opportunity for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Team to address sexual violence by engaging the Navy community through awareness and prevention-focused events and activities,” said Laird. “The events held throughout the Navy in April provide an opportunity not only to raise awareness and promote prevention, but also to challenge existing social norms and beliefs.”