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.