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Sex assault hurts Navy, Pacific Fleet's Haney warns

By Audrey McAvoy

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 4:01 p.m. HST, Apr 27, 2012

Sexual assault is not only a crime that hurts the victim, but it damages the Navy as a whole, the commander of the Pacific Fleet said Thursday.

Adm. Cecil Haney said sexual assault can make sailors doubt their ships and leaders, creating a ripple effect that the Navy can't afford if it's going to successfully carry out missions from landing fighter jets on aircraft carriers to missile defense.

"It hurts all and has ramifications, quite frankly, that go well beyond just the individual and the perpetrator, but through the whole unit and in some cases through the missions and operations of the whole United States Navy," Haney said in an interview.

Haney spoke as a part of sexual assault awareness month, which the Navy is observing by putting its personnel through training.

The Pacific Fleet, which includes 160,000 sailors and other personnel, had 145 reported cases of sexual assault last fiscal year. So far this fiscal year, which is about halfway over, it's had 80. The trend is similar for the Navy as a whole.

In October, the former commander of the USS Momsen was sentenced to three years in prison for sexually assaulting and raping two female sailors. Earlier this month, two women sued Navy and Army secretaries, saying they were raped by classmates at the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The Pentagon estimates at least 20 percent of servicewomen and 1 percent of servicemen experience sexual trauma while serving, but the military estimates 86 percent of cases go unreported.

Haney said the Navy needs to create a culture in which victims feel comfortable coming forward. He showed optimism this could be done, noting the Navy had had great success at combatting issues like discrimination over the years. The Navy also must show it will hold perpetrators accountable, regardless of where they are in the chain of command, he said.

"We know we can get at this as long as we keep at it," Haney said.

The training sessions have included information about what constitutes consent and how drinking alcohol can cloud judgment. The Navy is also encouraging sailors to intervene if they see something that troubles them.

"A lot of these things start at a nightclub, in a crowded setting, and people can see it start to go south, and I want them to step in," said Master Chief Petty Officer John Minyard, the Pacific Fleet's most senior enlisted member.

Last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced new steps to combat sexual assault. One makes serious offenses such as rape and forcible sodomy subject to a court-martial review at the level of Army colonel or Navy captain.

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