Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Military Renews Focus On Drinking In Wake of Sexual Assaults

Incidents of binge drinking and sexual assaults involving military personnel have highlighted an ongoing concern for the service. The Army's Surgeon General, Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, notes that while there are many different treatment programs for servicemen and servicewomen who grapple with drinking problems, there is now a concerted effort on prevention, before drinking gets out of hand.

The Pentagon estimates that there may have been as many as 26,000 sexual assaults perpetrated against military members in 2012, a dramatic jump from the estimated 19,000 assaults which occurred in 2010. The numbers are difficult to correlate, as many assaults are never reported. According to both studies and surveys conducted by the military and by independent agencies, alcohol abuse was a factor in almost 50 percent of sex abuse incidents.

Horoho spoke at SHARP, the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention conference at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland last month. She reported that troops are routinely asked about their level of alcohol consumption at medical appointments, as are their family members.
Drinking issues have been dealt with previously by various means, from barrack sweeps for beer and liquor to random breathalyzer testing to therapeutic efforts. This new push, to prevent problem drinking before it starts, is a sea change. She stated that the new push is focusing on prevention of alcoholic abuse both in barracks and off-base. Army barracks will be swept more often for alcohol in personal spaces, while the Marine Corps is now performing random breathalyzers tests to base-based troops on base.

Alcoholic consumption and sexual assault are frequently linked behaviors; a significant number of the reported sexual assault occurred when service members had also been socializing in settings where alcohol was consumed, or the alleged sexual perpetrator was often reported to have been drinking prior to the assault. 

The Army is now pushing for increased confidentiality for members who request help for a drinking issue, Horoho added. The potential stigma involved in having a chain of command know that a service member is work gin on a drinking issue is likely keeping many troops from accessing treatment, Horoho said.

The public recognition that alcohol plays a major role in the number of sexual assaults and sexual abuse is a change; Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently stated that while sexual assaults and sexual abuse in the military was due to a complex number of issues, one of the largest factors was alcohol use.


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