WASHINGTON, D.C. â€”Â The Defense Department has refined new methods to aid sexual assault victims whether reporting a crime or seeking assistance as they transition from service, the director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office said March 30.
â€œWe have several new options for victims of sexual assault,â€ said Air Force Maj. Gen. Mary Kay Hertog. â€œFirst, if youâ€™ve been a victim of sexual assault in the military, you now have the option of requesting an expedited transfer. We signed that into effect in December.
â€œIf you find it untenable or unbearable in the organization that youâ€™re at … you can request to be transferred,â€ she added.
Hertog said a service memberâ€™s local commander has 72 hours to respond to the request for transfer, and, if denied, there is an option to take it to the first flag or general officer in the chain of command who also has 72 hours to respond.
â€œWe also have a new document retention initiative,â€ she said. â€œWe heard loud and clear from our veterans who present themselves at the (Department of Veterans Affairs) years later that there was no documentation that they had ever been sexually assaulted (during) their military service.â€
The issue arose, Hertog said, because varying standards of retention had existed among all of the services. It has since been resolved.
â€œWe now have one standard of retention so those individuals who file unrestricted reports will have their documents retained for 50 years,â€ she said.
â€œThose who file restricted reports will have their documents retained for five years,â€ Hertog said. â€œOf course our victims of sexual assault who file restricted reports have that option to convert over to unrestricted reports at any time and then we will retain their documents for that 50-year period.â€
The director also discussed other innovations such as expanding legal assistance to encourage victims to participate in the military justice system â€œin order to hold that perpetrator accountable.â€
In addition, as of January, DOD civilians and contractors deployed abroad as well as military dependents over 18 years old are now eligible to access sexual assault response services, Hertog said.
Hertog noted other changes implemented include new training for investigators of sexual assault crimes within the services.
â€œSome of our new training initiatives concern our investigators such as our (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) agents, Air Force (Office of Special Investigations) and Army (Criminal Investigation Division),â€ she said. â€œWe think we have found the gold-standard course … to send many of the agents to (so we can) build a sexual assault subject expertise cadre of agents to get them very familiar with these cases.â€
Hertog said training frequency will increase and more seats will be offered. The training has expanded to include judge advocate generals â€œbecause these are some of the toughest cases to investigate as well as prosecute.â€
Perhaps the most useful option has been established for about a year, Hertog noted.
â€œYou have the option of contacting our DOD Safe Helpline,â€ she said. â€œWe stood up a 24/7 crisis hotline. Itâ€™s operated by RAINN â€” the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network â€” who have been trained by us, so theyâ€™re very familiar with military terminology.
â€œIf you donâ€™t want to go through your chain of command, you can contact them and they will tell you where your nearest rape crisis center is in your community outside your installation gates,â€ Hertog said.
Hertog said the hotline has been â€œextremely successful,â€ with about 30,000 unique visits to the site and about 2,500 referrals for counseling services.
She emphasized the Defense Departmentâ€™s commitment to â€œeradicatingâ€ sexual assault in the military â€œfrom the secretary (of defense) on down.
â€œWe have to eliminate this problem from our ranks,â€ Hertog added. â€œThe American public gives us whatâ€™s most dear to them and thatâ€™s their sons and daughters. And they trust us that weâ€™re going to take care of them, (which) is a commanderâ€™s job.â€