April 19, 2012

Panetta Vows to Continue Fighting Sexual Assault in Military

Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
DOD photo by Erin Kirk-Cuomo

WASHINGTON, April 13, 2012 – With the release of an annual report today on sexual assault in the military, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta vowed to continue fighting to stamp out the crime among service members.

DOD officials delivered the Report on Sexual Assault in the Military to the House and Senate armed service committees today. The report noted there were 3,192 reports of sexual assault in fiscal 2011 compared with 3,158 in fiscal 2010, a one percent increase.

“Sexual assault has no place in this department,” said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a press release on the report. “It is an affront to the basic American values we defend, and to the good honor of our service members and their families.”

Countering sexual assault has been one of the secretary’s top priorities since taking office last year. Panetta wants all members of the department “to do everything we can to reduce and prevent sexual assault, to make victims of sexual assault feel secure enough to report this crime without fear of retribution or harm to their career, and to hold the perpetrators appropriately accountable.”

The secretary will meet with members of Congress next week to propose new measures to counter sexual assault and give DOD new tools to erase this scourge.

The report details ways the department is working to implement its sexual assault prevention and response plan. The first step is to institutionalize prevention strategies across the services. DOD looks to influence the knowledge, skills and behaviors of service members to prevent sexual assaults from happening. Officials are looking to training, a social media campaign and posters/commercials to increase awareness and encourage good behaviors.

The strategy also looks to increase the confidence those who have been assaulted have in the reporting process. DOD wants to engender a positive and supportive command climate that encourages people to reports cases of sexual assault. The department also wants to reduce stigma and other barriers that deter reporting.

The report also details additional programs, policies and activities that will improve the response to sexual assault. It details the new 24/7 hotline for sexual assault victims and improvements to education for case workers, as well as new exams and health care for victims of sexual assault.

The report also recommends ways to improve service through system accountability. “In fiscal 2011, commanders had sufficient evidence to take disciplinary action against 989 subjects,” the report says. “For the 791 subjects who could be disciplined for a sexual assault offense, 62 percent had courts-martial charges preferred for a sexual assault offense, 24 percent received nonjudicial punishment under Article 15 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice and 14 percent received a discharge or another adverse administrative action.”

This is a 10 percent increase in courts-martial over fiscal 2010, the report says. The proportion of military subjects against whom commanders decided to take disciplinary action for sexual assault offenses by preferring court-martial charges has increased steadily since fiscal 2007, when only 30 percent of subjects had charges initiated against them.

Finally the strategy looks to “improve stakeholder knowledge.” This means reaching out to service members about the sexual abuse prevention and response program. It also means reaching out to the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services. It further means taking the message of the mission to non-traditional audiences to enlist their support for the effort.

Panetta appointed Air Force Maj. Gen. Mary Kay Hertog to oversee the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. He also directed several new victim-focused policies that have been implemented since the end of fiscal 2011. Among these are expanded legal assistance, expedited transfers for victims of sexual assault and extended retention of forensic examination and investigative reports.

Other initiatives to enhance prevention and response efforts include establishing a sexual assault advocate credentialing and certification program; expanding sexual assault support services to military spouses and adult military dependents; expanding emergency care and support services to DOD civilians stationed abroad and DOD U.S. citizen contractors in combat areas; and increasing funding for investigators and judge advocates to receive additional specialized training.

The department is also assessing how the department trains commanding officers and senior enlisted leaders on sexual assault prevention and response.

“As this report makes clear, we have more work to do to confront this problem,” Panetta said in the release. “There are no easy answers, but that makes it all the more essential for us to devote our energy and our attention to trying to confront this challenging crime.”

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