Army ROTC starts training for sexual assault awareness, suicide prevention


Cadets attended sexual assault and suicide prevention workshops on Saturday. Courtesy of Three Rivers Battalion's Facebook page.

By Rachel Glasser / For the Pitt News

Cadets in the Army ROTC Three Rivers Battalion spent their Saturday addressing the prevalence of sexual assault and suicide in the military.

At the first leadership lab of the year — a weekly workshop to develop management skills among future military leaders — 185 members of the Army ROTC gathered to discuss sexual assault and suicide prevention. The lab is mandatory for all cadets in the battalion, which includes students from 11 colleges in the area and has headquarters at Pitt.

Sergeant First Class James Henderson, a military science instructor helping to lead the sessions Saturday, said the army’s sexual assault programming is beginning to focus on eradicating the behaviors that shape sexual predators.

“For years, we talked about don’t be a victim, don’t go to dark places by yourself, don’t wear provocative clothing,” Henderson said. “We essentially told everyone how not to be a victim. The Army finally is focusing on preventing the behavior rather than eliminating victims.”

A 2014 RAND military survey found that 22 percent of active-duty women and 7 percent of men may have experienced some form of sexual harassment that year. Additionally, 1 percent of men and 4.9 percent of enlisted women had experienced sexual assault in 2014, compared to 0.06 percent of the general population over 12 years old who reported experiencing sexual assault or rape in 2014, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.   

Sergeant First Class David Butler, a military science instructor, said numbers don’t often speak to reality because members of the military can be hesitant to report sexual assault.

“Sometimes [sexual assault] isn’t reported. Male to male contact a lot of times isn’t reported,” Butler said. “Female to male isn’t a lot of times, because they don’t want their name out there, their story out there.”

According to data from the U.S. Department of Defense and the RAND Military Workplace Study, 77 percent of sexual assault cases in 2015 were not reported.

In groups of 20 to 25, the cadets rotated through sessions such as the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Prevention program, which focused on consent and how to make restricted and unrestricted sexual assault reports.

A restricted report keeps the incident and identity of the victim private –– in this case, the perpetrator is not prosecuted. In an unrestricted report, the incident is made public and an investigation is opened. A victim who files a restricted report may convert the report to an unrestricted report later on if he or she chooses.

ROTC cadet Brittany Clegg, a sophomore psychology and accounting double major, said the doctrine the U.S. Army employs for handling sexual assault prevention and incidence treatment has made her feel more safe.

“It’s nice to know that you have options whenever something like [sexual assault] happens. It’s not just like you’re closed off,” Clegg said.

Marcello Defay, a junior psychology major at Pitt in ROTC, emphasized that the lessons learned on Saturday –– specifically issues addressed in the sexual assault prevention session –– should apply to everyone, not just ROTC cadets.

“Obviously, there are rules that they want to implement in the army, but they’re also things that apply to everyday life,” Defay said.

Suicide prevention sessions helped cadets learn to recognize at-risk individuals and cope with stressors in their own lives.

In 2015, 266 active duty military members committed suicide, according to the Department of Defense Quarterly Suicide Report for 2015.

For every 100,000 people in the United States general population, there were about 13 suicides, according to 2014 statistics from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For active service members in the U.S. military in 2014, there were almost 20 suicides per 100,000 people, 21.9 for the reserve and 19.4 for the National Guard, according to the Department of Defense 2014 Suicide Event Report.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, of the 41,435 suicides committed by U.S. adults, 18 percent –– or 7,403 –– were identified as veterans of U.S. military service.

In the session Saturday, students were taught to recognize signs that others might be considering suicide and how to act appropriately to help them, utilizing a protocol known as ACE: Ask, Care, Escort. In addition, the session discussed how cadets’ own life stressors could accumulate and grow into long term stressors.

Emily Gallagher, a third-year occupational therapy major at Duquesne University, said she liked how the examples were tailored to topics relevant to students, both involved in or separate from ROTC.

“A lot of other students, friends who aren’t in the program, are going through the same hardships. [The instructors] do a good job of creating scenarios of student life outside of ROTC life,”she said.

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