NORFOLK -- The Navy has launched a comprehensive, month-long effort to crack down on the persistent problem of sexual assault, designating April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
The hope is to raise awareness about various victim advocacy programs that are available.
A new interview room has been set up by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service at Naval Station Norfolk. Unlike sterile, traditional law enforcement witness interview rooms, this one has a certain warmth to it, with a nice sofa, soft pillows, a comfortable rug and a wide-screen television with a DVD player. Agents want victims to feel welcome, and not intimidated.
NCIS Assistant Special Agent in charge William E. Thomas II, tells 13News that a major problem is that sexual assault goes drastically unreported because victims are afraid to come forward.
In 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available, a Pentagon survey showed the number of official cases of sexual assault investigations, from harassment to rape, to be more than 3,100. The study estimated the actual number of sexual assaults to be 19,000. The number of cases which went to court-martial was 489. And, the number of suspects who were eventually administratively discharged from the military was 48.
'It's a crime that when committed, it's committed usually by people you know, or maybe sometimes not, but it's a very embarrassing crime,' said Thomas. 'And what you find is, victims don't want to be victimized again, victims don't want to talk about what happened. They try to find ways to move on without dealing with the problem head-on.'
Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jonathan Greenert is very clear about his support of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. 'For me, it's to be sure the commanders and the commanding officers in our Navy are able to hold people accountable for committing sexual assault and we can account for those incidents when sexual assault occurs so that we can understand the problem,' Greenert said.
The Department of Defense has set up a toll-free Safe Help-Line, a confidential source which victims can reach 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week: 877-995-5247.
Locally, there is a sexual assault prevention and response number: (757) 438-304.
In addition, there is a website that victims can access: www.SafeHelpline.org.