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Night Patrol Aims To Prevent Sexual Assault On Naval Base

Evening Edition

Aired 5/27/13 on KPBS News.

The Navy is conducting night time shore patrols around the 32nd Street barracks in response to the news that sexual harassment has emerged as a crisis in the ranks of the military.

On this Friday night, two ships have just returned to San Diego and there are small groups of young people dressed up for an evening out, drifting over the grass and heading toward the gate and downtown.

A Pentagon survey released in May 2013 estimated that 26,000 people in the military were sexually assaulted the year before. Women on the Senate and House Armed Services committees are leveraging their clout in response to the problem.

It’s almost midnight and Chief Petty Officer Armaun Bartee is one in a team of officers patrolling the multi -story barracks, where almost 5,000 single sailors, both men and women, live.

“We pretty much move around all the barracks,” he said, “There’s a bowling alley that’s open till midnight, and we cut around through there. There’s tables by the fence where people smoke and we go around there to make sure there’s nothing going on.”

The head of the four-man patrol, Master Chief Scott Matthis, said they also check the rooms.

“We have had instances where we’ve intervened in a bad situation,” Matthis said, ”where you’ve got a young female had too much to drink, she’s in a room with six or more guys that are also drinking, and you break that up and have them all move along. “

The patrol is relaxed and friendly, checking sailors' IDs to make sure they are of drinking age and escorting those who may have had too much to drink back to their rooms.

Sitting in a courtyard with a group of ETs or electronic technicians, some smoking and drinking cans of beer, Peggy Wyatt said she’s heard a lot about preventing sexual abuse since she joined the Navy more than a year ago.

“We’re just told there’s no stigma to it, never blame the victim. Don’t be afraid to step in if you see something happening. Even if it’s a higher up or somebody you wouldn’t necessarily want to report, just report it anyway. “

One member of the shore patrol, Yeoman Chief Kassandra Soumphonphakdy, knows part of the solution is to have more women in positions of authority.

“The appearance of female leadership in the military has a really big bearing," she said, pausing on her rounds of the barracks. ”A lot of sailors are used to having a lot of male leadership around, but when you have female leadership walking around, first of all, it gives the females a sense of pride and also gives females assurance that we are there for them.”

Soumphonphakdy said night time shore patrol is not new in San Diego but there is a more specific focus on preventing situations where sexual abuse could occur. Its part of a national effort to change the culture in the military and turn the tide on sexual harassment and assault.

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