WASHINGTON, D.C. — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is vowing to change the culture that allows sexual assault to be a serious problem for the Defense Department.
In a memo released May 7, Hagel announced a number of initiatives to eradicate sexual assault.
“While the department is putting in place important new programs to combat this crime, it is clear that we must do much more to eliminate this threat to the safety and welfare of our men and women in uniform, and the health, reputation, and trust of this institution,” he wrote.
Army Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton, the director of the Pentagon’s sexual assault prevention and response office, discussed the secretary’s initiatives in an interview ahead of the memo’s release. Patton said the secretary’s initiatives will work to change the culture in the armed forces.
The first initiatives deal with the command climate and enhancing commander accountability, requiring that the results of command climate surveys will be provided to the next higher echelon of command. “Second, the service chiefs have been directed to develop methods to assess the performance of military commanders in incorporating sexual assault prevention and victim care principles into their commands,” Patton said.
“We’ve asked the service chiefs to look at methods to incorporate this into annual assessments — what would be appropriate ways to tie sexual assault prevention and response accomplishments into an evaluation or assessment system?” he added. “It’s an open-ended task.”
The chiefs have to report back to Hagel with their conclusions Nov. 1.
Hagel directed the services and defense agencies to conduct a comprehensive visual inspection of department work places, including the service academies, by July 1. This is similar to an inspection the Air Force conducted late last year to ensure workforces do not display “degrading, offensive materials.”
Another Hagel initiative looks at preventing sexual assault in the recruiting and early training process, Patton said. “This includes DOD-wide recruiting organizations, the military entrance processing centers [and] ROTC to assess them on their sexual assault prevention programs,” he said. This follows recent assessments conducted by the services of their military academies and initial entry training programs.
Another initiative looks to improve overall victim care and trust in the chain of command, to increase reporting of the crime, and “to reduce the feelings victims have of being ostracized,” Patton said.
On the military justice side, Hagel asked for the acting DOD general counsel to incorporate the rights afforded to victims through the Crime Victims’ Rights Act into military justice practice. He also wants to evaluate the Air Force Special Victims Counsel pilot program “to ensure victims of sexual assault are provided the advice and counsel they need to understand their rights and to feel confident,” Patton said.
Finally, the defense secretary is asking a congressionally mandated panel to speed up its work on an independent review of the systems used to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate sexual assault crimes. The legislation gives the panel 18 months to finish its review. Hagel is asking them to finish in a year.