Enhanced Court-Martial Process Targets Sexual Predators in Military

by U.S. Medicine

May 10, 2012

By Sandra Basu

WASHINGTON — All branches of military service now are mandated to set up special units to investigate allegations of sexual assault crimes, which will go through a dedicated court-martial process.

That was among a number of new initiatives DoD announced  last month to tackle the increasing problem of sexual assaults among troops.“Sexual assault has no place in the military. It is a violation of everything that the U.S. military stands for,” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said.


Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta

That all accusations of attempted or completed rape, sexual assault and forcible sodomy be handled by a special court-martial convening authority at the colonel or Navy captain level will ensure local commanders take sexual assault seriously. Currently, only the Army has set up a similar structure.

“At the local-unit level, sometimes these matters are put aside and not followed up,” Panetta said. “We continue to emphasize that all commanders have to exercise good discipline and take control … but, most importantly, we are assured that at a higher command level we will have action taken with regard to the complaints that have been made.”

The new initiatives were announced on the heels of a DoD report released last month finding that, in FY 2011, a total of 3,192 sexual-assault reports were made involving troops as either victims or subjects.

The findings were part of the agency’s annual report on sexual assault in the military, which is required by law. While the figure represented a 1 percent increase in sexual assaults compared with FY 2010, DoD officials have acknowledged that sexual assault among its ranks is a major problem and probably is underreported.

“Because we assume that this is a very underreported crime, the estimate is that the number actually is closer 19,000,” Panetta stated earlier this year.

Responding to Sexual Assault

Panetta said he would work with Congress to implement new legislative initiatives, including:

  • A requirement that sexual-assault policies be explained to all troops within 14 days of their entrance on active duty.
  • Allowing Guard and Reserve who have been sexually assaulted while on active duty to remain in their active-duty status in order to receive the treatment and support afforded to active-duty members.
  • Establish “Special Victim’s Unit” capabilities within each of the Services.
  • Require a record of the outcome of disciplinary and administrative proceedings related to sexual assault and require that copies of those records be centrally retained.
  • Enhance training programs for sexual-assault prevention.
  • Require commanders to conduct annual organizational climate assessments.
  • Mandate wider public dissemination of available sexual-assault resources.

These new efforts follow initiatives introduced earlier this year by Panetta, which included:

  • Establishing a DoD sexual-assault advocate-certification program, which will require sexual-assault-response coordinators and victim advocates to obtain a credential aligned with national standards; 
  • Expanding support to assault victims to include military spouses and adult military dependents, who now, for the first time, will be able to file confidential sexual-assault reports and receive the services of a victim advocate and a sexual-assault-response coordinator; and
  • Ensuring that DoD civilians stationed abroad and DoD U.S. citizen contractors in combat areas receive emergency care and the help of a response coordinator and a victim advocate.

In addition, because sexual-assault cases are “some of the toughest cases to investigate and to prosecute,” Panetta said funding has been increased for investigators and for judge advocates to receive specialized training. An integrated data system also would be put in place by August of 2012 to track sexual-assault reports and monitor case management.

He also ordered an assessment of how commanding officers and senior enlisted leaders are trained on sexual-assault prevention and response and what can be done to strengthen that training.

“It’s important that everyone in uniform be alert to this problem and have the leadership training to help prevent these crimes from occurring,” he said.

Enhanced Court-Martial Process Targets Sexual Predators in Military Cont

Tackling Sexual Assault

Late last year, DoD released a report showing that the number of sexual-assault reports also had increased at military service academies.


– Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2011 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military

At the time of the release of that report, DoD announced two other new policies to help victims of sexual assault. The first policy gives victims who report a sexual assault an option to quickly transfer from their unit or installation to protect them from possible harassment and remove them from proximity to the alleged perpetrator.  

The other policy requires that written reports to law enforcement of sexual assault be retained for 50 years. Panetta said the reason was to have these records available so it would be easier for veterans to file a VA claim at a later date.  

The report “Army 2020 Generating the Health and Discipline of the Force” noted that sex crimes in the active-duty Army have trended upward, with a 28% increase in the offense rate from FY 2006-2011.

The Army report also pointed out the health impact that sexual-assault crimes have on victims and stated that research has found that sexual assault in female veterans has been associated with depression, PTSD and sleep difficulty.

“Sex crimes can have an enduring impact on the victim, with the effects of the event often lasting years,” the report stated.


– Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2011 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military

Still, a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) review found that the military has made some progress in improving its prevention and response to sexual assault within its ranks. The report noted that DoD has begun or completed action on 25 recommendations that GAO has made over the years to manage the problem.

“To date, our analysis shows that DoD has fully implemented 13 recommendations and has partially implemented the remaining 12 recommendations, which we will continue to monitor,” the report stated.

Among the progress cited are DoD’s efforts to evaluate the military criminal investigative organizations’ sexual assault investigation training. An earlier GAO report had questioned DoD Office of Inspector General oversight of sexual assault training provided to investigators.

Generating Health and Discipline in the Force

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