JACKONVILLE (KTHV) - Top U.S. military brass is speaking out about sexual assaults in the military.
"The most important thing that we can do is prosecute these offenders, deal with those who have broken the law," Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently said during a press conference in Washington, D.C.
Sexual assaults are an issue gaining national attention this month as Department of Defense leaders announce new steps to curb the violence, hitting close to home at Little Rock Air Force Base.
Little Rock Air Force Base is really a city in itself. It has restaurants, stores, a bank, schools and a population about the size of White Hall or Warren. So while it has all the amenities of a city, it also has all the problems. And that's why Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is proposing new measures to fight sexual assaults on military bases. They include things like a special crimes unit in the armed services and more serious offenses facing higher authorities. It's all welcome news at Little Rock Air Force base, which is doing its part as well.
Little Rock Air Force Base has its fair share of happy days, celebrating loved ones back from deployments. But there are other days here where there is nothing to smile or hug about.
"Ninety-five percent of our cases involve alcohol at some level, so it's your number one risk factor of being a victim of sexual assault," Linda Benjamin said.
Linda Benjamin is the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program Assistant at the base. Since 2005, her office has seen close to 100 victims with both cases happening on base and others from an airman's past.
"Now all the sudden something triggered it to come forward and so we're just available to give them they help that they need," Benjamin said.
But the goal here is not just caring for the victim.
"We're trying to change the culture to where we focus on the inappropriate behavior and address that before it leads to something more," Benjamin said.
The base is doing that with education and prevention programs like one for Sexual Assault Awareness Month a few weeks ago. There's also guidance at orientation and special "bystander training" later on for people who may be witnesses to a dangerous situation.
"We do a lot of scenarios and we do a lot of examples, so there's not power point slides, it's just discussing," Benjamin.
Helping airmen pick-up on signs like name-calling and alcohol and bringing happier days to the base.
"The best sexual assault is the one that doesn't happen, so our main goal is that education and prevention piece," Benjamin said.
Now while they want to prevent these assaults from happening, Benjamin says it's critical for victims to report these cases. She says overall, sexual assaults are one of the most unreported crimes.
As for victims, the base offers things like counseling services and a 24-hour hotline in an emergency. They want to get the word out that there's a safe place for people who need it most.
Benjamin also says the suspects in most cases are people the victims know. We should also note that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.