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MCPON calls on chiefs in fight against sexual assaults

May. 21, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens (Navy)
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With reports of sexual harassment and assault on the rise in the military, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens is calling on all chiefs to take action.

On March 11, the Defense Department released its annual report on sexual assault and harassment, which found incidents had increased by more than than 30 percent since 2010.

Stevens says he’s not creating new prevention programs; instead, he’s directing the Navy’s 30,000-plus chiefs to focus on the problem as only chief petty officers can — with deck-plate leadership.

“This is a call to arms and I’m going to issue every chief petty officer in the Navy a cutlass and tell them to get to work,” Stevens told Navy Times. “I’m not creating anything new here, but acting within the limits of of my authority as MCPON ... I knew I could go to my chiefs and call them to action in wiping this from our ranks.”

Stevens made that call to action in a personal message Monday to all chief petty officers. He’s asking them to make a yearlong commitment to him that they’ll get personally involved with the issue — not through some new formal training program, but instead with one-on-one discussions with their sailors starting Wednesday.

“At a minimum I’d like each of us to talk to one sailor per week about sexual assault prevention,” he wrote in the message. “As part of the conversation, stress how sexual harassment, assaults and overall sexist behavior do not align with our core values.”

Stevens said the conversation should run both ways, with chiefs asking their sailors for ideas on how to prevent sexual assault and asking those same sailors to promise to pass the word along.

“The commitment being that they will have a conversation about sexual assault prevention with one of their shipmates, and so on,” Stevens said. “It is what some people would call ‘paying it forward.’”

Stevens said that this approach “will only work if everyone is onboard and willing to do this together.”

Stevens said he accompanied Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mark Ferguson to a meeting with President Obama and Vice President Biden, who directed the services get a handle on the problem.

“I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on what the president and other leaders discussed during the meeting and what we as chief petty officers might be able to do to get to the left of this terrible issue,” he said in the message

“When we are functioning at our best, we are family. And when that bond is violated because of something like sexual assault, we are broken. I still find it hard to understand why someone would be willing to lay down their life for their shipmate and then turn around and violate that shipmate in such a horrible way.”

Stevens said chiefs are uniquely positioned to influence this issue on a daily basis. He stressed the call to action is right along with what he’s been asking chief petty officers to do since he took office last fall, and that’s to control what they already own.

“This isn’t a high-profile program and doesn’t cost a bunch of money,” he said. “This is good-old-fashioned chief petty officer leadership. We are in this together. It is our duty.”

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