WASHINGTON—Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced several new initiatives designed to strengthen support for military victims of sexual assault.
Among those initiatives include the creation of a legal advocacy program in each military service to provide legal representation to sexual assault victims. In addition, Hagel directed that commanders be provided with options to reassign or transfer a member who is accused of committing a sexual assault.
According to Hagel’s written statement other initiatives include:
• requiring regular follow-up reports on sexual assault incidents and responses to be given to the first general or flag officer within the chain of command
• developing standardized prohibitions on inappropriate conduct between recruiters and trainers and their recruits and trainees
• developing and proposing changes to the Manual for Courts-Martial that would allow victims to give input during the sentencing phase of courts-martial
• ensuring that pretrial investigative hearings of sexual assault-related charges are conducted by a judge advocates general officer
• directing DoD’s inspector general to regularly evaluate closed sexual assault investigations
“The bottom line is sexual assault is not tolerated, not condoned, it’s not ignored, and everyone in the department from the newest enlistee to the secretary of defense and everyone in between are responsible to uphold our values and continue an environment of dignity and respect for all,” said Jessica Wright, the acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, during a press conference.
Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti said during the press conference that the new initiatives will improve DoD’s ability “to combat sexual assault by standardizing and enhancing victim support and protection, elevating oversight, and improving investigations.”
“Over recent months, we’ve met frequently and looked both in and outside of DoD, taking best practices from across the services and from our communities,” he said. “Where we have found best practices, we have moved to make them common practices throughout our services.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said that the initiatives are “positive steps forward,” but that it is “not the leap forward required to solve the problem.”
“As we have heard over and over again from the victims, and the top military leadership themselves, there is a lack of trust in the system that has a chilling effect on reporting,” she said in a written statement.
On his part, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) said he applauds DoD for “continuing to address this very real problem.”
“Expanding support for victims, promoting chain of command oversight, systematic review of sexual assault investigations and increased use of lawyer investigators are vital steps necessary for the kind of cultural change that will ultimately stamp out this crisis within the ranks,” he said in a written statement.