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How Military Leaders Can Help Prevent Sexual Assault

In addition to the devastating effect on the victim, sexual assault in the military services can also negatively impact those associated with the victim and perpetrator and can undermine mission readiness. Although each service is developing its own approach to preventing sexual assault, some approaches are universal. Follow these guidelines to help minimize the odds of sexual assault and keep your service members safe.

  • Enforce sexual harassment and assault policies. Sexual harassment that goes unchecked sends a message that inappropriate or abusive interpersonal conduct is tolerated or condoned.
  • Maintain consistent accountability. Hold all leaders and subordinates accountable for providing the clear and consistent message that inappropriate sexual behavior will not be tolerated.
  • Consistently enforce all drug and alcohol policies. Department of Defense surveys indicate that at least one-third of sexual assaults in the military services involve the use of alcohol by one or both parties. In a large installation or unit population of men and women under the age of 25, alcohol is likely to be a factor in many – if not most – sexual assaults.
  • Encourage responsibility. Prepare others to take responsibility for the safety of their friends and coworkers. In potentially dangerous situations, support safe interventions by service members.
  • Engage the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator. Including him or her will help prevent sexual assault at the installation and unit level.
  • Implement safety measures, especially those that might reduce the risk of sexual assault. However, do not rely on these as a method of prevention. Lighted areas and locked doors can make everyone feel safer, but they do not prevent most attacks. The vast majority of sexual assaults in the services occur between people who already know each other. Stranger rape accounts for relatively few sexual assaults.
  • Work with service experts. Support education initiatives to promote healthy sexuality, responsible drinking and equitable relationships.


Feet walking in the woods Sexual assault can happen to anyone at any time. It can be overwhelming and devastating for victims and their families, but there are many resources available that provide accurate information, prompt medical care, counseling and assistance with the military justice system.

Close up of eyes with tears In the wake of experiencing a sexual assault, a person may experience a whole range of emotions from anger and fear to numbness and shame. Just as with any other trauma, the severity and duration of this reaction will vary from one individual to the next. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you might find it helpful or comforting to know what kinds of feelings are common among others who have been through the same thing. This information will help you better understand what to expect following a sexual assault and how you can seek help for yourself or someone else.


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