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Bystander intervention: Sailors get message, but aren't eager to 'tattle'

Aug. 15, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
This Navy-generated poster encourages bystander intervention.
This Navy-generated poster encourages bystander intervention. (Navy)
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What's your take on the bystander-intervention program? Should sailors be forced to report minor incidents or be allowed to police themselves? Let us know at navylet@navytimes.com.

The Navy is touting “bystander intervention” as a positive way to reduce sexual assaults in the fleet, and bad behavior in general. Sailors are empowered to step in and stop a shipmate who finds himself in trouble, be it drinking too much, starting a fight or flirting with someone who clearly isn’t interested.

Sailors tell Navy Times the message has gotten out, and they are doing more to steer their peers away from trouble. While sailors agree that intervention is important, they’re unlikely to go as far as the Navy would like, however.

Senior Chief Interior Communications Electrician (SW) Claudia Seawright, the Navy’s course manager for bystander intervention, recommends that after such an intervention, a sailor’s next step should be to go to his chain of command and report what occurred.

“You definitely want, at all costs, to inform your chain of command after any type of intervention,” said Seawright, whose job includes certifying instructors to teach bystander intervention.

Intervening is one thing, some sailors told Navy Times, but going back to their command is tantamount to snitching.

“A lot of people are going to see it as throwing your shipmate under the bus,” wrote one hospital corpsman. “I see people intervene all the time in situations that could have gone worse, and it is great that they do, but most of the time, it doesn’t get reported, because we don’t wish to see our shipmates lose their career or be punished.”

While sailors are obligated to report crimes they witness, they are not required to report interventions. But Seawright strongly recommends it. Doing so, she reasons, will make you look good to your command and allow a troubled sailor to get help.

She gave the example of a sailor breaking up a verbal argument between two of his shipmates while out on liberty.

“You come back and you report,” she said. “That’s a good point on you. You just did something positive to stop two of your shipmates from getting in a big argument that could have led to a fight, led to both of them being kicked out of the Navy, being sent to captain’s mast, who knows. That’s a big, big kudos to you for doing that.

“When you report that, we as leaders like to hear that. Those are the types of interventions we like to hear so we can pass it on.”

In fact, Seawright said sailors should report a suspected incident, even if they weren’t there as a witness. For example, should a sailor come to work on Monday with a black eye, you should tell your chief so he can potentially get that sailor help, she said.

A sailor who only identified himself as a master-at-arms first class agreed that sailors need to report sexual assault attempts. However, he disagreed that any and all infractions should go up the chain.

“As far as [sailors] reporting they had to step in because they felt another service member had too much to drink, [that] shouldn’t be expected,” he said. “Because that is tattling! And last time I checked, drinking is not a crime.”

The corpsman, who asked to remain anonymous, questioned the requirement to report an incident if a sailor successfully intervenes, and it never becomes a problem.

“While the Navy might try to make it a positive outcome for the person who reports the incident, I am more than sure that the rest of the command would not look highly on anyone who turns in their fellow sailor,” he said. “We look out for each other, yes, but that also means trying to keep everyone out of trouble.”

As another hospital corpsman said, “For us, any problems on liberty means no liberty.”

Not all sailors criticized the idea of reporting interventions. Information Systems Technician 2nd Class (SW) Daniel Colon said it amounts to a “moral call.”

“A person who has the right moral standards will make the report,” he said. “With more training, more knowledge and having faith in the system, many people feel safer knowing they have the right to make the call.”

He acknowledged that doing so may put friendships at risk.

“I would make that call despite the remorse of losing a possible friend, because it is helping to save a person from being traumatized for the rest of their life.”

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