Whenever there is a scandal, be it in the U.S. military or a big corporation, the response is always the same: “Let’s institute more training.” It’s the standard damage-control solution, a box to be checked off to pacify the public and the press. And with the furor over a 34 percent increase in reported sexual assaults in the U.S. military between 2010 and 2012, the armed forces can look forward to many more PowerPoint presentations and training videos.
The problem is, there has been sexual harassment training for years. The U.S. Army, for example, has online self-study courses and interactive training videos as part of its Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Program. And yet, the military still has a problem. So why would doing more of the same achieve any better results?
But in an age where technology is leveraged against almost every problem, perhaps new technology could provide an answer. After all, the Pentagon’s research labs devote an enormous amount of resources to studying better ways to train soldiers, from virtual reality combat suits and computer games to smartphone apps. Perhaps there is a better way to train soldiers on what not to do.
So I checked with three big military labs: Army Research Lab, Office of Naval Research and Air Force Research Laboratory. All three responded that they were not doing any work in this area.
The Air Force Research Lab was emphatic: “AFRL currently has NO [their caps] new projects or research on sexual harassment planned.”
This isn’t surprising. Devising better methods for marksmanship training or flying a fighter jet is more straightforward and less controversial than dealing with sexual harassment. And yet this is still disappointing. There are a lot of very smart scientists at these labs, a lot of dedicated researchers who are very skilled at understanding how people learn and how to use that understanding to create better training.
Current training clearly doesn’t cut it. Whether new technology or new teaching methods will help remains to be seen. But perhaps these scientists that spend much time hacking the human brain and systems will find improved solutions for sexual harassment training, better ways of getting through to the stupid and the insensitive.
We won’t know unless we try. And that is what science is all about.