Two years ago, the military began to seriously address its sexual assault problem. But how it did so, according to Army Staff Sgt. Alexander VanArsdall, was almost comically misguided.
VanArsdall, speaking to the Military Times, said the initial response to counteracting the problem was to require troops to attend more sexual assault awareness training. At first, the sessions were required twice a year; then the number was increased to four times a year; then to every month, and finally to every week.
"We literally were having sexual assault prevention and response classes every single week ... for a good two or three months," VanArsdall said. "It was the exact same training, the exact same words. After a while, people start to tune it out. It was in one ear and out the other, just checking a block."
VanArsdall also said that the training is so focused on male-on-female sexual assault that it feels more like male-bashing sessions than training.
"A common thing among male service members, when they head into the training, is to say, 'It's time to learn what a racist, sexist, intolerant bastard I am,' " VanArsdall said. "That's what it feels like. We start to get a little indignant and upset, and feel persecuted in our own right."
VanArsdall said that things have gotten better recently — he now attends an annual training block and quarterly sessions. He also said the sessions were getting better, moving away from videos to interactive walkthroughs of various situations.
Addressing sexual assault — whether in the military or on college campuses or in the greater population — is going to require an institutional and not just an individual learning process. As VanArsdall mentioned, and as we’ve seen in the response to campus sexual assault, we won’t get things right the first time around.