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Navy stresses intervention to stop sex assaults

Dec. 20, 2012 - 09:29AM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 20, 2012 - 09:29AM  |  
The Navy is showing a 40-minute video called "Take the Helm" as part of its sexual-assault prevention training for E-6 sailors and below.
The Navy is showing a 40-minute video called "Take the Helm" as part of its sexual-assault prevention training for E-6 sailors and below. (Navy)
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DAM NECK, Va. — There's a new movie coming to a command near you — and if you're E-6 or below, you're required to see it.

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DAM NECK, Va. — There's a new movie coming to a command near you — and if you're E-6 or below, you're required to see it.

But before you start to groan about yet another military training class, you might just like this one.

It's called "Take the Helm," and it's 40 minutes long. It's also the centerpiece of the Navy's new Sexual Assault Prevention and Response — Fleet, or SAPR-F, training.

There won't be a test, but the Navy's leadership hopes you'll talk about it.

"This is designed to be a two-way conversation with our sailors," said Capt. John Newcomer, commanding officer of the Navy's Center for Personal and Professional Development Command.

"It's a discussion that we hope will instill in our sailors trust and confidence that their command will act appropriately when presented with a sexual-assault report."

The scenario takes place on a fictitious destroyer — the Rupert Wheeling — but could happen, and probably has happened, at any command in the Navy. It was filmed on a real Navy destroyer with actors in the main roles and sailors serving as extras.

In the film's plot, a new female junior petty officer checks into her first sea command and a male first class takes an undue interest in her. Though their shipmates see problems, and peers and leaders try to step in, the situation deteriorates and tears apart friendships and work relationships. The plot has enough holes in it to prompt discussion in the class, which officials are hoping for.

The video begins and ends with Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens discussing how serious sexual assault is, that it is a crime that can fracture commands. Each encourages sailors to get involved to prevent it.

The overarching theme of the training is bystander intervention: In other words, to get sailors to act when they see sexual harassment at their command. If sailors trust their commands to do the right thing, Newcomer said, they're more likely to intervene with their shipmates.

That's why, Newcomer said, the class is required to be given by an officer and chief team. The officer must be either an O-3 or 0-4 and the chief can be either an E-7 or E-8, but can't have more than 15 years of service.

"We are encouraging COs to pick their most dynamic people to lead this training," said Cmdr. Stuart Rivers. "The paygrade requirement is there to ensure these facilitators are closer in age to the E-6 and below they're interacting with — but the key is that they be dynamic enough to be able to connect with their sailors and get them to speak openly and freely about this difficult subject matter."

The Navy reported 496 alleged incidents of sexual assault in fiscal 2012, which ended Sept. 30. Of those, 397 were "blue on blue" cases involving only Navy personnel. More than half of all the reports involved alcohol.

Officials suggest that class sizes be limited to the department, division or work center levels with no more than 20 to 30 sailors to better foster communication.

As detailed in http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/reference/messages/Documents/NAVADMINS/NAV2012/NAV12336.txt">NAVADMIN 336/12 released Nov. 14, everyone in the Navy, E-6 and below, must complete the training by March 31. Officials had originally hoped to have the training developed and delivered by Dec. 31, but there were delays in getting the content and instructors out to the fleet to train the command teams.

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