Summit to Drive New DoD Policies to Deal With Sexual Assault
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 2004 Decisions to be made next week at a senior leadership summit are expected to have a sweeping impact on the Defense Department's sexual assault prevention and response efforts, according to the task force commander charged with turning the group's recommendations into DoD- wide policies.
The Oct. 6 summit, to be made up of senior military and civilian leaders, will provide a clear definition of what constitutes sexual assault, Air Force Brig. Gen. K.C. McClain said today during an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service.
This, she said, will help clear up disagreements and misunderstandings about what behaviors constitute sexual assault an important starting point in educating the force and preventing sexual assaults.
"Our primary challenge in preventing sexual assault is educating everyone as to what sexual assault is," said McClain, commander of DoD's new Joint Task Force for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response.
And, if the mantra for real estate is "location, location, location," then McClain said that in sexual assault prevention, it's "education, education, education."
"It is imperative that everyone from the unit commander to the most junior member of an organization understand that they have a role in preventing sexual assaults, in responding to sexual assaults and in supporting the victim's recovery," she said.
McClain said summit participants also will address the challenge of protecting victims' privacy while enabling commanders to maintain good order and discipline and hold offenders accountable.
Specifically, the group will consider how to maintain victim's confidentiality in reporting what McClain called "one of the most underreported crimes," and ways to make the military's response to sexual assault cases more transparent to victims as well as the general public, within the bounds of the Privacy Act.
It also will look at ways to standardize policies and programs throughout the Defense Department dealing with sexual assault and will examine unique challenges involving deployed troops.
McClain said these challenges include close living environments, operational and environmental stresses, and the lack of some support resources that are available at home stations.
The upcoming summit follows a weeklong internal working conference in which more than 150 participants studied issues laid out by the Task Force on Care for Victims of Sexual Assaults. That task force, formed by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in mid-February in response to reports of alleged sexual assaults in Kuwait and Iraq, called for a senior summit to develop a plan for DoD-wide policies and programs to address the problem.
Among that task force's recommendations was that DoD establish a single office to develop standardized DoD-wide policies regarding sexual assault and to help the services and combatant commanders put them in place. The new Joint Task Force for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response is expected to be fully "stood up" by late October.
, McClain said the office will take Oct. 6 summit results and work with the services to implement the policies.
McClain acknowledged that the Defense Department faces hurdles in confronting sexual assault, a problem, she noted, not only in the military but also in the civilian community.
But she said DoD leaders have demonstrated their commitment to take on the challenge and reducing the incidence of sexual assault within the military. "Our ultimate goal is to prevent sexual assaults," McClain said. "And, failing that, when there is a sexual assault, it's to ensure that the victim is adequately cared for and supported."