By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy's top officer on Thursday announced additional measures aimed at reducing and eliminating sexual assaults in the service, calling such attacks a "scourge in our workforce."
Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said continued efforts to combat sexual assaults were a central part of his goal of strengthening the entire Navy workforce - one of four pillars of new strategic guidance released last week.
He said measures already implemented in recent years had led to increased reporting and a decrease in sexual assaults, but more work was needed.
"Until we eliminate this and go to zero, we can never be satisfied," Richardson said, calling sexual assaults the most egregious of destructive behaviors seen in the military.
The Navy and other U.S. military services have stepped up their efforts in recent years to crack down on sexual assault in the military, as well as on retaliation against those who report such attacks.
In 2014, the Navy reported that 5.1 percent of women in the service experienced unwanted sexual contact, a decrease from 7.2 percent in 2012, while 1.1 percent of men experienced unwanted sexual contact, compared with 2.7 percent of men in 2012.
Richardson mapped out several initiatives, including training focused more on encouraging shipmates to "step in" if they witnessed sexually inappropriate behavior.
"If I look back at some of the progress that we’ve made, it’s really when our team starts to think, 'We own this. We are not going to let our shipmates be injured in this way,'" he said. Sailors would be told, "If you see something wrong, do something right."
The Navy would revamp its personnel management system to ensure survivors did not wind up work closely with attackers later in their careers, and to expedite discharges for any victims who opted to leave the Navy.
In addition, he said the Navy would expand use of civilian counselors at shore facilities to encourage more men and women who had been sexually assaulted to report attacks.
There would also renewed efforts to crack down on alcohol abuse, given the high correlation with sexual assaults, and implementation of cell phone and computer applications used by some colleges to make it easier to report any incidents.
Richardson said training measures were already under way and the rest of the measures would be implemented within the next six months.
Further steps were still being considered and would be unveiled at a later date, he said.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Robert Birsel)