NORFOLK -- While military sexual assault statistics continue to be disturbing, Navy leaders believe they're beginning to see signs of progress in their branch.

Between 2012 and 2013, the Navy saw a 40 percent increase in the number of sexual assault cases it investigated. But so far this fiscal year, Fleet Forces Command projects there will be a 30 percent reduction.

'We're a long, long way from declaring victory, but we're starting to see positive effects of all the attention being focused on the problem so far,' said Captain chuck Marks, U.S. Fleet Forces Command Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Officer.

Marks says aggressive campaigns, including Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, are making a difference.

'Sailor resiliency is improving. We also think we have more bystanders intervening and we also think we're starting to see positive indicators of behavior change at the deck-plate,' he said.

The Navy continues to educate themselves about the issue. They found the vast majority of assailants are not strangers to the victim. Instead, the Navy has found more than 80 percent of cases investigated involve people who knew each other.

'The majority of our cases are peer to peer,' said Marks. 'And we know who the alleged offender is at the moment of the report. So about 80 percent of the cases are cases where it is peer to peer, folks who are about the same rank level, and in many of those cases there is alcohol involved, and it happens out in town.'

Marks, a captain, is the first O-6 ever appointed by Fleet Forces to study sexual assault. That proves how serious Navy leadership considers the issue, Marks says, adding that it is a far cry from how things were more than two decades ago during the Tailhook scandal.

'Absolutely. I think we fundamentally understand that sailor readiness and behavior of sailors interacting with each other is a critical part of combat readiness,' he said. 'And so if we're going to go after sustaining mission, readiness over the long haul, you can't have destructive things occurring in the workplace.'

Navy leaders say a contributing factor in the increase in sexual assault cases in previous years is the very definition of 'sexual assault.' In June, 2012, the Department of Defense changed the definition to also include acts which in the past were defined as 'sexual harassment.' As a result, Fleet Forces experienced three times the number of cases it has investigated since '12.

Uniformed Navy leadership is scheduled to brief Chief of Naval operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert on their progress on the sexual assault issue on May 22. The Navy and other branches of the service must present a final report to the White House on December 1.

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