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NRSE Works to Strengthen Women’s Ability to Combat Sexual Assaults

10 November 2022

From CNRSE Staff

Navy Region Southeast initiated a test program at Naval Air Station Pensacola in October that works to provide better tools for women to avoid and defend against sexual assaults. The program, called Enhanced Assess, Acknowledge, Act (EAAA), is a 12-hour training program that endeavors to provide a positive environment for young women while teaching them how to be more assertive and helping them recognize risky situations as well as the actions to help reduce that risk.
Navy Region Southeast initiated a test program at Naval Air Station Pensacola in October that works to provide better tools for women to avoid and defend against sexual assaults.
The program, called Enhanced Assess, Acknowledge, Act (EAAA), is a 12-hour training program that endeavors to provide a positive environment for young women while teaching them how to be more assertive and helping them recognize risky situations as well as the actions to help reduce that risk.
“We actively practice and role play what assertiveness can look like within the realm of their comfort, so it becomes very personalized,” said Tina Vaughn-Wardle, NRSE’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator.  “In recognizing risk, we explore this both for situational and environmental risk, but also behavior risk in coercive men.”
The individualized aspect of the training hits at the heart of how this program differs from previous Navy training efforts.  Bystander intervention training is taught fleet-wide, and while it has shown to help change attitudes, intentions and behaviors to a small degree, they have not altered outcomes.  Sexual assaults and victimization of women still occur at persistent and concerning rates.
The Department of Defense 2021 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military showed that over 8% of active-duty women indicated some form of unwanted sexual contact in the year before the survey was conducted.  Additionally, the number of sexual assault reports increased by 13 percent (the Navy increase was 9.2%), while the rate of people experiencing a sexual assault and reporting it has decreased.
“Statistically, the most vulnerable Sailors and the ones who are most often the victims of sexual assault in the Navy are first-tour females,” said Matt Straughan, the Region Family Support Program Director. “The EAAA program is different in that the program is targeted at a specific demographic.  Rather than a one size fits all, it is designed to teach young women how to be more assertive and gives them the skills to recognize risky situations and the confidence to take actions to reduce their risk.” 
 The EAAA program has previously been used in the U.S. Air Force Academy as well as at a number of colleges and universities and has an evidence-based record of success.  This is the first effort to adapt the program for the Navy, and NAS Pensacola was chosen because of the large number of women within the targeted age group (17-24) going through A-schools at Naval Air Technical Training Command, and the presence of Naval Aviation Schools Command where junior officers awaiting flight training might be available to serve as facilitators.  Both commands were enthusiastic in their support for the program.
The 12 hours of classroom instruction is currently broken down into two six hour sessions held every other weekend to a class of no more than 20 Sailors.  The junior officers serving as facilitators were trained by Vaughn-Wardle and the NAS Pensacola Civilian Victim Advocate Lauren Portal.
The training seeks to empower the women to:  recognize risk clues (Assess); identify and overcome personal obstacles to prioritizing their own sexual rights in acquaintance situations (Acknowledge); develop a toolbox of strategies to defend their bodies and boundaries (Act).  The strategies are both verbal as well as physical.
Given that the program focuses on helping women avoid and defend against sexual assaults, ensuring that blame is never ascribed to the victim is a concern.  The training diligently works to ensure that the Sailors refute internal and external victim-blaming.
“It could be all too easy to blame themselves for what happened to them,” Vaughn-Wardle said.  “It is something we see all too often in this field, so we reinforce that anyone who is sexually assaulted did the best they could with the resources they had at the time. The only person who can ever really, with 100% consistency, stop a sexual assault, is the person sexually assaulting. We can role play and practice and have an arsenal of tools, but when all of that is not enough to stop someone committed to using violence against us, we have to remember where the true responsibility lies—with the person committed to using violence.”
 
As a pilot program, there is not a timeline for expansion to other installations currently.  Vaughn-Wardle and Portal oversee the program and will eventually collect data from participants as well as a control group to ultimately generate statements of effectiveness on incidence of sexual assault, reduction of internalized victim blaming, and increased levels of confidence.  If the region team can validate the effectiveness of the program, then it might be implemented at other CNRSE installations with A-schools, however, that is a long-term goal.
 
For the time being, though, the goals are more individualized.
 
“I want to see women, especially young women, move more confidently through the world, embodying strength beyond their wildest imagination – physical, emotional, and mental – who are also empowered to talk about sex openly and honestly with their partners,” Vaughn-Wardle said.
 
 
 
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