Eliminating sexual assault from the armed forces remains one of the Department of Defense’s top priorities. This effort requires our absolute and sustained commitment to providing a safe environment in which every service member and DoD civilian is free from the threat of sexual harassment and assault.
Our success depends on a dynamic and responsive approach. We, therefore, must continually assess and strive to improve our prevention and response programs.
In May, I directed a range of initiatives designed to strengthen our programs in the areas of commander accountability, command climate, victim advocacy, and safety. Today, I am directing immediate implementation of the following additional measures to improve victim support, strengthen pretrial investigations, enhance oversight, and make prevention and response efforts more consistent across the military services:
• Creating a legal advocacy program in each military service that will provide legal representation to sexual assault victims throughout the judicial process;
• Ensuring that pretrial investigative hearings of sexual assault-related charges are conducted by judge advocates general (JAG) officers;
• Providing commanders with options to reassign or transfer a member who is accused of committing a sexual assault or related offense in order to eliminate continued contact while respecting the rights of both victims and the accused;
• Requiring timely follow-up reports on sexual assault incidents and responses to be given to the first general or flag officer within the chain of command;
• Directing DoD’s inspector general to regularly evaluate closed sexual assault investigations;
• Standardizing prohibitions on inappropriate behavior between recruiters and trainers and their recruits and trainees across the department, and;
• Developing and proposing changes to the Manual for Courts-Martial that would allow victims to give input during the sentencing phase of courts-martial.
All of these measures will provide victims additional rights, protections, and legal support, and help ensure that sexual assault-related investigations and judicial proceedings are conducted thoroughly and professionally. In addition, the Department of Defense has established an independent panel, in accordance with the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, which is currently reviewing and assessing the systems used to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate crimes involving sexual assault and related offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. I have met with panel members and I will closely review their recommendations when complete.
Sexual assault is a stain on the honor of our men and women who honorably serve our country, as well as a threat to the discipline and the cohesion of our force. It must be stamped out. I will continue to meet weekly with DoD’s senior leadership team to personally review our efforts and ensure that directives and programs are being implemented effectively. We are all accountable to fix this problem, and we will fix it together. We will continue to work closely with the Congress and the White House on eliminating sexual assault in the military.