A nationwide scandal involving sex assault in the military is being called an epidemic. Hawaii troops are part of the national investigation.
The U.S. Army says there were 35 cases of sexual assault or harassment in Hawaii last year. This year, as of March 31, there were already 23, so there will likely be an increase.
Officials say there’s something encouraging about that because more victims are willing to come forward.
“Because a lot of times, it’s something that happened maybe one or two years ago, but now they’re coming forward so the numbers start going up a little bit, but maybe it’s from a year or two ago,” said Lt. Col. Ed Austin of the 25th Infantry Division.
There are changes happening from the top down to deal with the problem. Commanders will be making periodic inspections at work areas to make sure there are no inappropriate materials.
There will be more training for everyone on the type of behavior that won’t be tolerated. Congress has mandated more advocates to help the victims and more training for those advocates — all to give victims more options.
“We’ve got quite a few that have gone through the training in order to do that and now we’re going back to make sure that all of those people are really the best qualified in order to do that,” said Lt. Col. Brendan Burke of the U.S. Army Pacific Region.
“When they train, they are trained to retain so they can identify things that happen so that we can prevent those actions from happening and that they act with all of the personnel,” said Sgt. Sylvia Thomas of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
The idea is for advocates to recognize the signs and have the victim comfortable enough to talk about it. If they don’t want to go through the chain of command, they don’t have to do that.
“Where someone can just walk up and just talk to someone and see someone, say ‘Hey can you help me?’ and if I don’t want to talk to you or your unit I can go to another unit or go talk to a civilian, so a network to help them out,” Austin said.
The Army says the key is that everybody will know what’s expected of them, so they will be held accountable.