MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE -- the largest Marine Corps base on the East coast -- reported more instances of sexual assaults for fiscal year 2011 than any other Marine Corps installation worldwide, according to a recent report.
There was a total of 346 reported cases of sexual assault Marine Corps-wide last year, a 10-percent increase from the previous year. Seventy of them took place at Camp Lejeune, according to a recent report from the Department of the Navy and Headquarters Marine Corps titled "Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Campaign Plan 2012."
Marie Brodie, manager for the Marine Corps Community Services Lejeune Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, said an increase in the number of reported instances is not necessarily a cause for alarm.
"Sexual assault happens both in and out of the military," Brodie said. "But what our program aims to do is ... create an environment where a Marine or sailor feels safe and comfortable enough in their environment to come forward and report the sexual assault. So it could be there's an increase in the amount of people who feel safe enough to come forward."
Although Camp Lejeune had the most reported sexual assaults last year, Marine Corps bases in Okinawa, Japan, were not far behind with 67 reported cases, and Camp Pendleton in San Diego had 64 total reported cases.
But the numbers are not necessarily an accurate representation of the number of sexual assaults throughout the Marine Corps because "research shows that sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes in the United States," Brodie said. It is estimated that roughly 80 percent of sexual assaults in the Marine Corps go unreported, according to the report.
Brodie said the focus of the SAPR on Lejeune is on prevention, and the program is consistently educating Marines and sailors about how they can prevent a sexual assault from occurring, because it is easier to prevent the crime than to stop it once it's started.
"The majority of people do not commit this crime," Brodie said. "It's a small percentage of people who (do); the majority of us are bystanders ... So it's about learning what you can do to intervene and stop a sexual assault before it happens."
Brodie said the program has multiple classes and workshops in place for fiscal year 2012 to ensure Marine Corps leadership is doing its part to prevent sexual assault.
This summer marks the start a 3-hour course for non-commissioned officers called "Take A Stand" in which Marines and sailors will learn about the basics of sexual assault and what the reporting options are within the Marine Corps.
Brodie said victims of sexual assault in the Corps have the choice to report the crime as "restricted" or "unrestricted." Restricted cases are not reported to the victim's chain of command, and no military police action is taken against the perpetrator. Unrestricted cases, on the other hand, get both the command and the police involved; and a servicemember who committed the crime is prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Regardless if the incident is reported as restricted or unrestricted, victims will be given a victim advocate who will stay by their side as long as the victims deem necessary. Victims will also be given the opportunity to attend counseling and get professional medical attention from a nurse who specializes in sexual assault examinations and can collect evidence in case victims later changes their mind and decide to involve law enforcement, Brodie said.
This fall, all commanding officers will also be going through team training in a course similar to this summer's NCO class.
"In order to prevent sexual assault we need to tackle this from the leadership," Brodie said. "It's about demonstrating that the behavior is wrong."
Also in the fall, all Marines, regardless of if they've previously attended a sexual assault prevention course, will be attending a day-long course on sexual assault and the importance of creating a climate that is not conducive to the crime.
Brodie said Marine Corps data is consistent with civilian sexual assault cases in that the crime usually occurs among the younger age groups, or the enlisted ranks of private, private first class, lance corporal and, occasionally, corporal.