Department of Defense Issues New Policies, Advocates Respond
In response to the Department of Defense’s (DoD) own annual Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault Report, the DOD has announced two new policies for addressing sexual assault. The report and the new policies were released on December 27th, 2011. The new policies are as follows:
- Expedited Transfer of Military Service Members Who File Unrestricted Reports of Sexual Assault: this provides a service member who has been a victim of sexual assault and filed an unrestricted report the option to request an expedited transfer from her/his unit and/or installation. This is only available to service members that file unrestricted reports on SA. Restricted reports are confidential.
- Document Retention in Cases of Restricted and Unrestricted Reports of Sexual Assault: this standardizes the retention periods for sexual assault records across the military services. In unrestricted cases, specified documents will be retained for 50 years and in restricted cases, for five years, to ensure victims have extended access to documents related to the sexual assault. This will allow victims to seek services and file claims with the Department of Veteran affairs at a later date.
In addition to the new policies, DOD Director Leon Panetta has recommended the following initiatives, some of which may require legislative action. These new initiatives include:
- Establishing a DoD sexual assault advocate certification program, which will require military SA response coordinators and victim advocates to obtain a credentials aligned with national standards.
- Expanding assault victim support to include military spouses and adult military dependents who can now file confidential reports and receive the services of victim advocate and a SA response coordinator. This was not available before
- Increasing training funds for investigators and judge advocates. The funding increase will total $9.3 million over five years.
- Creating an integrated data system to track sexual assault reports and monitor case management.
- Assessing how DoD trains commanding officers and senior enlisted leaders on sexual assault prevention and response, and strengthening that training.
In response, the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN) issued a statement regarding the new measures. Anu Bhagwati, Executive Director of the Service Women's Action Network and a former Marine Corps Captain, called the announcement noteworthy but expressed concern that the new measures will not have the desired impact. Read the full statement here: http://yubanet.com/usa/SWAN-Responds-to-DOD-Announcement-to-Reduce-Sexual-Assault-in-the-Military.php
Also, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence issued the following (from naesv.org):
The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV) applauds the efforts of the Department of Defense to put into place initiatives and directives that strengthen the military’s prevention and response to sexual assault within the ranks.
With the military setting new standards and initiatives promising to make it easier for victims and survivors to report the crime committed against them, our hope is that it serves as an example for civilian institutions to adopt and implement those same standards and practices. The NAESV agrees with Defense Secretary Panetta that sexual assault has no place in the military, but is just as important for us to recognize that sexual assault also has no place in our communities.
Spouses and dependents of active-duty military personnel, who are victims of sexual violence, often receive services outside of the military system. We are pleased to see that the Defense Secretary pledges to expand victim advocate and sexual assault response coordinator (SARC) services from active duty personnel to spouses and dependents. This step in the right direction provides a more inclusive and cohesive military installation and shows that they understand that sexual violence doesn’t just affect an individual soldier, it affects an entire family.
While these new proposed initiatives are aimed at reducing the number of sexual assaults within military branches, it is important for us to remember that sometimes stricter and more intense training and certification for victim advocates isn’t enough. The military justice system and the military as an institution are deeply rooted in victim blaming and norms and behaviors that tolerate sexual violence. Unless those norms are challenged and environments on military installations are made even safer for victims to report, the potential for sexual violence to occur will continue to exist.