A year ago, Joint Base Lewis-McChord opened a sexual assault response center that seemed like such a good idea, commanders wondered why they had not launched it earlier.
The rest of the Army apparently agreed.
This month, Army commanders announced plans to replicate the JBLM model at 11 other posts. It’s an endorsement of a project created at the base south of Tacoma that placed a variety of resources under one roof instead of spreading them around a sprawling military installation.
“We’re going to make that an Army best practice,” Secretary of the Army John McHugh said earlier this month during a visit to JBLM.
The center — formally known as the I Corps Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program resource center — consolidates legal, medical, mental health, advocacy and education services in one location.
Previously, victims would have to go to different offices for those services and often have to relive traumatic experiences while speaking with advocates at each stop.
Now, “they can just go to one center,” said Lt. Col. Stephanie Johnson, the I Corps sexual harassment and assault prevention program manager.
Johnson said about three dozen people visit the center each month. Some are victims; others are unit leaders looking for the Army’s latest information on halting sexual assault in the ranks.
“We are used not just for victims, but for anyone looking for answers,” she said.
The Pentagon in May reported a steep rise in reports of sexual assault. Commanders largely attributed the increase to victims feeling more comfortable coming forward to report crimes because of increased military scrutiny on the issue.
Across the Army, the number of reports increased to 2,149 last year from 1,423 in 2012. At JBLM, the number of reports climbed to 120 in 2013 from 100 in 2012.
JBLM had a soft opening for its sex assault response center last summer. The base hosted a grand opening for the center in November.
The military is facing pressure from lawmakers to reform its sexual-assault prevention efforts. One proposal would take the prosecution of sex crimes out of the Army’s normal chain of command. So far, the measure by Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has failed to pass.
Army leaders cast the decision to open more one-stop centers as an effort to change a military culture that critics say is too tolerant of sex assault.
"What we're trying to do is put the systems in place and provide the tools to commanders, in order to change the culture and create an Army where everyone is treated with dignity and respect," said Lt. Col. Geoff Catlett of the Army’s personnel command in a news release announcing the new centers.