Report: Military Sexual Assault Prevention Program Working
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 16, 2006 The Defense Department's second annual report on its sexual assault prevention and response program reflects increased understanding about what sexual assault is and more willingness to report it, the commander of the joint task force overseeing the program said.
"Our climate of confidence is building, and our programs are working," Air Force Brig. Gen. K.C. McClain, commander of DoD's Joint Task Force for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, told reporters here.
DoD sent the second annual report on the program to Congress today, as required by the 2005 National Defense Authorization Act.
According to the report, DoD received 2,374 allegations of sexual assault that involved a military member as either a victim or alleged perpetrator in 2005. That's up 40 percent from 2004, but McClain said it more likely reflects more willingness to report such assaults than a surge in incidents.
"Sexual assault is the most underreported crime in our society as well as our military," McClain said. Studies show that as few as 5 percent of sexual assaults ever get reported, she noted.
DoD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program is making progress in getting more people to step forward and report sexual assault, McClain said. She credits some of that progress to a new system that gives victims the option to file a "restricted report," meaning they can report that a sexual assault occurred without launching an investigation.
This option, introduced in June, enables victims to get medical care and counseling services without going through a criminal investigation, McClain explained. Of the 435 people who filed restricted reports last year, 25 percent later requested to change to an unrestricted report, opening the door to a criminal investigation.
"We think that's good, because it shows that the program is working as designed," she said. "Restricted reporting was to allow a victim to come forward, get the care and support they need without initiating the investigative process. That 25 percent of them did, we think, is indicative that the design is sound."
DoD acted quickly on reports of sexual abuse, completing 1,386 investigations in 2005. "We think we have done an outstanding job in bringing these cases to fruition," McClain said. By Dec. 31, the close of the reporting period, 352 offenders were awaiting final action on their cases and another 274 had received punitive action.
A big part of DoD's program focuses on education, not just to ensure people recognize and know how to report sexual assault, but also to help prevent it from happening in the first place, McClain said. "Our biggest preventive effort is to help people understand ... what behaviors constitute assault," she said. "One of the key things is we not only do not want victims of sexual assault, but we don't want perpetrators of sexual assault."
The education program begins when people enter the military and continues throughout their careers. "This is not a one-time shot, but will be a continuing effort as we work to eradicate sexual assault from our ranks," she said.
McClain credited all the services with being "very aggressive" with their training programs. "The education and training is having an impact, she said. "More people are understanding what constitutes sexual assault. More people understand how to report sexual assault. More people are willing to come forward," she said.
For the short term, that's likely to cause the number of sexual assault reports to increase, McClain said. Ultimately, she said she expects the number to hit a plateau before decreasing.
But even as this occurs, McClain said, she won't believe DoD's work is finished. "We hate that we have even one sexual assault," she said.
Preventing sexual assault ultimately boils down to a mission-readiness issue, she said, because it can impact entire units and their ability to perform their missions "It strikes at the very heart of military preparedness," she said.