Defense Department Working to Prevent Sexual Assault
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2006 Defense Department leadership is committed to preventing sexual assault, the commander of the DoD's Joint Task force for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response said.
"To achieve this goal, in 2005, we have vigorously implemented a comprehensive sexual assault prevention and response program," Air Force Brig. Gen. K.C. McClain, said in an interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel Feb. 24. "The keystone of the program is education and training."
The education and training portion of the program is being applied to everyone in DoD, she said, adding that all of the services completed baseline training of their members during 2005. The education effort, she said, is ongoing.
"It's also incorporated in all of our professional military education curriculums," McClain said, as well as in pre-deployment and pre-command training. "So we're trying to hit every opportunity available to help people understand what constitutes sexual assault and what their role is."
The department's sexual assault prevention and reporting policy also aims to enhance care and support available to sexual assault victims, as well as to increase accountability, the general said. The investigative process initiates accountability, she explained.
"If we have a member who has been assaulted, we certainly want to investigate that," McClain said. "We want to hold the perpetrator accountable."
Initially under the sexual assault prevention and response program, if a victim told anyone other than a chaplain about the assault, the investigative process began, she said. In June, two reporting options were introduced: unrestricted and restricted.
Unrestricted reporting, as the name implies, does not limit who you tell, McClain said. The action will initiate not only an investigation, but also the care and counseling offered through the program.
But because victims often report a sense of powerlessness after an assault, the thought of an immediate investigation can be overwhelming, she said. This can lead to the victim telling no one and receiving no care or counseling.
Restricted reporting, on the other hand, allows a victim to seek counsel from health care personnel, victim advocates, sexual assault response coordinators or chaplains, she said.
"What this does is allow the member to come forward, to get accurate information as to what the options are and to get back some of that power that some feel they have lost," McClain said.
Though the two reporting options have been available only for a short time, indications are the program is working as designed, she said.
"We do have some people electing restricted reporting, and some of those people then later change their mind and become unrestricted," she said. "(That) is exactly what we had hoped for."
McClain recommends that sexual assault response coordinators be the first contact. These individuals will assign a victim advocate to collect information, explain options, and help execute the chosen course of action. The information collected will be revealed only to those who need to know.
"Their information needs to be held in confidence as much as possible," she said. When sexual assault victims use the unrestricted reporting process, this becomes more difficult as investigators need to talk to key people and gather information, she said.
"They should still expect that only those people who have a need to know are informed as to what happened in this incident," McClain said.
All sexual assault victims, regardless of which reporting procedure they choose, can expect to be offered a victim advocate and to be treated with dignity and respect, the general said.