“In Her Boots” Part 2
“Imagine a foreign enemy attacking between 19,000 and 34,000 United States Military Service Members every year, over the past several years, and paralyzing thousands of units in the process.
Would the US military counterattack with PowerPoint slides and fun runs? No.
The military would arm members with every tactic, technique, procedure, and weapon available in the arsenal. The unit leadership would bring in experts that fought the enemy and survived. They would ask survivors how they escaped the enemy’s grasp. They would learn how Service Members evaded the enemy.
Everyone down to the small unit level would study lessons learned and conduct hands-on field exercises to reduce the learning curve, so the same devastation does not happen the next year.”
–Excerpt from Janice Lembke Dombi, Reduce the Learning Curve chapter from In Her Boots Sexual Assault Prevention and Recovery Strategies, by Task Force Sisterhood Against Sexual Assault.
By the time US Army Corps of Engineers senior Colonel Janice Lembke Dombi deployed to Iraq in 2010, she had commanded two Engineer Combat Battalions (Heavy), and a Brigade level District and a Division in the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
Following a three-year command in the Republic of Korea, she reported to what she thought was her final assignment to complete 33 years in the Army.
Colonel Dombi was assigned to USACE in the South Pacific Division, San Francisco, CA. With less than one year from her mandatory retirement date, she was deployed to Iraq as a USACE individual replacement to assist the US Forces Iraq Engineer Directorate.
“I was the Chief of the Iraqi engineer capability development Branch,” she said. “The Headquarters organization in charge of Iraq operations was the III Corp from Fort Hood TX.”
“III Corps had been in Iraq approximately 3 months before my arrival. Within months, leadership had reports of over 100 sexual assaults involving military on military violence.”
“There may have been American civilian contractors assaulted,too, but I am not personally aware of the statistics,” she continued. “I do know civilian contractor women voluntarily came to our training program.”
“III Corps Senior leaders, knowing they had to do something about the assaults, ordered everyone to wear reflective belts and told the women they were not allowed to go anywhere without a buddy.”
According to annual military surveys on sexual assault, 85 percent of victims know their attackers.
“The vast majority of predators are not people jumping out of bushes and hiding in the shadows,” Colonel Dombi explained. “A reflective belt would serve no purpose in preventing an attack but must have left leaders with the feeling they did ‘something’ about the assaults.”
Major Lisa (Belcastro) Bass, who worked for Dombi, was already onto an idea to get the women together periodically to talk about strategies to improve their safety. This project expanded to a small volunteer group of senior women and men, and after much discussion, they came up with the name TF SASA.
“A Task Force is a designation given to an organization for a specific mission. It is temporary by design but laser-focused,” wrote Dombi in a White Paper. “In addition to completing our regular work, we developed a program called ‘In Her Boots‘“.
“Lisa and I had the full support of our boss, Major General Kendall Cox. He not only supported the work we were doing but personally gave opening remarks at some conferences and attended others.”
“With his support, we decided to develop a women’s only program and take it to any U.S. base in Iraq that would accept us.”
The National Defense Authorization Act requires the Department of Defense to submit an annual report to Congress on sexual assaults in the military.
🔼The yearly numbers of sexual assaults, obtained through surveys, range from 34,000 to 20,500 between 2004 and 2018.
🔼Women make up 20% of the military, but comprise 63% of its known assault victims, according to Defense Department statistics.
🔼More than 75% of women who said they were sexually assaulted did not report it, saying they feared retaliation and that nothing would be done, according to statistics compiled by Protect Our Defenders–a nonprofit organization that serves veterans and service members.
🔼The last biannual study completed in 2018 showed a 38% increase in assaults over 2016.
🔼The Defense Department’s fiscal year 2019 report indicates there were 7,825 sexual assault reports involving service members as victims or subjects, a 3% increase compared to 2018.
🔼In many years, more men report being sexually assaulted than women by number, but by percentage, significantly more women are assaulted.
🔼The annual report to Congress consistently shows people 17-24 years old are the most likely service members to be victims. This age group makes up 35% of the sexual assaults in the military.
🔼85% of the victims know their attackers.
🔼62% of sexual assaults involve alcohol.
🔼Finally, peers or near peers commit more than half of the assaults.
What happens between the ages of 24 and those beyond that age that significantly reduces the number of assaults?
“Confidence and the understanding of how the military system works,” says Colonel Dombi.
Part 2, ‘In Her Boots’ Sexual Assaults Increase 38% in Two Years
Part 3, ‘In Her Boots’ coming soon.
Part 4, ‘In Her Boots’ comi
This article is second in a series of how the TF SASA took matters into their own hands, and with the blessings and encouragement of their superiors, created a movement within the military known as “In Her Boots.”
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