Two months after three Navy football players were charged with rape, the Naval Academy wants to advance its sexual assault prevention and response program by bringing training into the classroom, the Naval Academy commandant said Wednesday.
Naval Academy officials are studying a program that they plan to introduce to midshipmen in the spring semester, Capt. Bill Byrne explained.
Byrne, who has served as the commandant for three months, said the Naval Academy has done sexual assault prevention and response training “at night, briefings, role-playing type venues, but now we’re integrating it into the core curriculum as well.”
Adding training to the curriculum is part of the Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention Education initiative. Byrne cautioned that the academy is still trying to figure out what the training means to a midshipmen in the classroom and “we aren’t there yet.”
He said the additional training has academy officials’ support and said portions of the program might start as early as the end of the fall semester. Byrne said he couldn’t provide further details on where the extra training will be focused and who will provide it.
The program will start with the plebes, or first year midshipmen, and “it will continue in the classroom through the four years,” Byrne said.
The Naval Academy has fallen under the spotlight of what Congress sees as a growing sexual assault problem at the academies, and in the military at large.
In June, a former Naval Academy instructor was acquitted of raping a midshipman but found guilty of five lesser charges that included committing an indecent act. Marine Maj. Mark A. Thompson was sentenced to 60 days' confinement, $60,000 in lost pay and a reprimand
A few weeks later, three Naval Academy football players were charged with raping a female midshipman at a party. Their Article 32, similar to a civilian grand jury hearing, is expected to start next week.
President Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have said that sexual assault is one of the greatest threats to the U.S. military and especially the service academies.
A recent Defense Department survey said that sexual assault incidents in the ranks increased in 2012 to 26,000 from 19,000 in 2010. A survey of the service academies also found an increase in sexual assault within all three academies.
When asked what more the Naval Academy could do to address the issue, Byrne highlighted this new initiative, but also argued that sexual assault is not only a Naval Academy issue, but a “societal issue.”
“I would argue that the Naval Academy has as strong, if not stronger [prevention and response program] than any civilian program at any civilian university in the United States of America,” he said.
The Naval Academy’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program is led by Cmdr. Lyn Hammer, who works with civilian advocates and sexual assault response coordinators. Midshipmen also serve as peer mentors.
“It has been a constant drumbeat from [Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Michael Miller] that sexual assault will not be tolerated, that sexual assault is a crime, and that we are here to set the appropriate command climate of respect, trust and teamwork so that everybody buys in from day one,” Byrne said.