Defense Department Briefing on Task Force Report on Care of Victims of Sexual Assault
MR. CHU: As I think you recall, three months ago the secretary of Defense asked that my office conduct a review of how this department responds to incidents of sexual assault, with particular emphasis on the care given to the victims. I asked Ellen Embrey to chair that effort and she's going to brief you on the report in just a few minutes.
Ellen is a senior civil servant in the department, experienced in a variety of roles here. Her present position is she serves as deputy assistant secretary in our health affairs office, responsible for what we call force health protection; in other words, how we take care of our people and how we make sure that they remain in good health. But this is an ancillary duty. Actually, it was an all-consuming full-time duty, I believe, for the last three months, and she is ready to render her report.
We have briefed the Secretary of Defense on this report and I will, after she's made her remarks, come back and describe the actions this department has taken thus far.
I should emphasize -- the report, while focused on this question of care for the victims of assault, is much more wide-ranging than that, and indeed deals with, I think, the full range of issues here the department needs to consider.
With that, Ellen.
MS. EMBREY: Good afternoon.
First slide please.
Before I start into the report and our findings and recommendations, I wanted to give you what I think are the big take-away messages from our experience. The first is, sexual assault is a crime, and it has potentially devastating and long-term effects on victims and their units. And therefore, we must do everything we can to prevent sexual assaults from occurring.
Secondly, we must also make sure that the systems of reporting, responding and investigating sexual assaults are timely, effective and sensitive to victim needs.
Most importantly, we must ensure that the department's leaders at all levels are committed to making necessary improvements.
As Dr. Chu indicated, Secretary Rumsfeld was very concerned about reports of alleged sexual assaults in Kuwait and Iraq, and therefore he asked us to address these three points within 90 days. Now Dr. Chu selected me, as he indicated, to form and lead that task force, and it was established on the 13th of February. It was composed of eight members, eight full-time members: myself, five other women, and two men. There were four active-duty military men and women, and four civilians. And they represented representatives from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the military departments and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Now the task force also drew heavily on expertise from within the department and outside the department.
In the 75 days that we had, we conducted a very comprehensive review that focused on the terms of this charter, with a particular focus on the effectiveness of current practices, policies and guidelines, especially those in terms of caring for victims.
Let me give you a little bit of background on how we accomplished the review. As I said, we sought advice from experts. We talked to victim-support organizations. We talked to academia. We talked to other subject matter experts. We spoke to experts form the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Justice. We also performed an exhaustive literature review of sexual assault research findings that were published by respected military experts as well as civilian authorities.
Well, armed with that information, we focused on five areas of concerns: prevention efforts; reporting mechanisms and avenues; response structures and effectiveness, especially those relating to care of victims; command disposition efforts and accountability, especially those for making the elements of response work together.
In accomplishing the review, we analyzed data that we received from the services on the incidents of sexual assault over the last few calendar years. We reviewed current policies, programs and documentation for adequacy, gaps and best practices. And with the full support of the military departments and the combatant commands, we conducted focus group sessions at 21 locations, as you see here. At all those sites -- in each site we held 12 focus group sessions. Three sessions were dedicated to discussing with officers and noncommissioned officers at all levels. Three sessions were held with junior enlisted personnel, males and females. Three other sessions were held with service providers, for medical, mental health, legal, investigative, law enforcement, chaplains, social workers and advocates. And two sessions were set aside at each location for us to discuss any issues from the victims who wished to come forward to talk to us.
Now, we gave victims three ways to talk to us. We set up a national hotline that they could use to contact us anonymously, or, if they wanted to, to give us their name and to provide us information that would inform us. Through that mechanism we heard from 73 victims and their family members -- or their family members. We also had opportunities while we were at those sites to visit with victims one-on-one, and several took up that opportunity. Also at those sites, through the support of the services that we went to and through, there were phones available, set up so people could call us when we were there. And that occurred as well.
The numbers of participants in each session at each site ranged from the small number of eight to a large number of 25 or 26. It varied from place to place. And through these focus group sessions we were able to get viewpoints on more than 1,300 -- from more than 1,300 individuals on how well the current programs and policies were meeting our sexual assault prevention, response, reporting and disposition needs.
The task force identified -- and you will see in the report, over -- well, over 34 findings. In fact, there were 35 findings. The five points shown on this slide broadly characterize those findings.
We found that with few exceptions the current policies and programs that are in place within the department did not address sexual assault. More often, it addressed sexual harassment. And there seemed to be some confusion among the population about the difference between harassment and assault. This finding was supported by the fact that the majority of people we spoke to did not clearly understand what sexual assault is and what it isn't, or how to go about reporting it, or the avenues available to them. They didn't know where to go to get help or what kind of help to expect. And they didn't understand the risk factors that should be considered in prevention efforts.
We also found that people with several different kinds of expertise are important to the success of supporting sexual assault incidents -- commanders, legal personnel, law enforcement, investigators, mental and medical health professionals, chaplains and social workers and victim advocates. Generally speaking, we found that experts of this type were not functioning as a team to provide needed support to victims. And as a result, many times victims had to find out where to go, and then take the initiative to go from place to place to place to get the help they needed.
We found that commanders, although concerned, were not educated or trained or sensitive to the needs of sexual assault victims. They need better tools, guidelines and training to be effective in their role as the person responsible for taking care of their troops.
With respect to victim support, we found that victim advocates, currently only available in the Navy and the Marine Corps, do make a difference in being responsive to the victims' needs, but there aren't enough of them, and many accomplish their work as an additional duty. And research shows that victim advocates make a big difference in victim care, support and recovery.
We also found that commanders in most cases were very interested in holding offenders accountable and they were often frustrated by factors that limited their ability to take action. Examples might include: victim chooses not to cooperate with investigators; insufficient evidence primarily due to late reporting; the evidence doesn't necessarily support the allegation, often due to a misunderstanding of what sexual assault is; or the victim recants. Under these circumstances, many commanders do what they can to take action on lesser but included offenses to ensure that offenders are held accountable in some way. Often the perception is that that is all they have done. And so therefore, we need to find a way, a much better way, to bring transparency to the UCMJ system and show why commanders take actions they do in these cases, without unduly violating the privacy of those involved.
Based on the 35 findings of the task force, we made nine broad recommendations. These first four are for immediate action. First, establish a single point of accountability, a policy office, if you will, accountable to the Secretary of Defense through Dr. Chu, the undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness, for all sexual assault matters. This office would be responsible for developing needed policies, establishing performance goals and metrics, and supporting the services and the combatant commanders in their implementation efforts.
Second, we recommended that they leverage time in the upcoming May combatant commanders' conference to discuss how the task force recommendations apply in their environments and also to make recommendations to the SECDEF on how we should proceed ahead with respect to our recommendations.
Third, recall I said there was a lack of understanding about what sexual assault is and how it -- what it isn't, how to report it and what to expect. This recommendation, if accepted, would get that critical information out there to those who need it, immediately, at all locations. This same communication network would be used to disseminate new policies, guidelines and command tools as they are developed.
Fourth, the task force also recommended that a summit be convened within the next three months, involving senior military and civilian leaders within the Department of Defense, as well as outside experts on sexual assault. The goals of that summit would be to develop, at a minimum, courses of action to resole the following five important issues:
Define sexual assault. Resolve the confusion over terms, behaviors and legal definitions.
Two, address privacy and confidentiality needs of victims, balanced against the context of a commander's need to maintain good order and discipline, and the need to hold offenders accountable for their actions.
Third, increase visibility on why reported cases of sexual assault are resolved the way in which they are.
Fourth, through our force planning processes, develop a sexual assault response capability for deployment to remote U.S., overseas and combat locations.
And fifth, develop templates and sample agreements to help our combatant commanders enhance our ability to hold non-U.S. citizen offenders accountable for their sexual assaults on U.S. service members.
These are the remaining -- let's see -- five recommendations of the nine. And these are near-term recommendations. We hope to accomplish these within the next three to six months.
The first on this page:
The task force suggests that we establish an office to develop the DOD-wide policies, guidelines and standards that are needed to improve prevention, reporting, response and accountability with respect to sexual assault.
The report goes into significant detail, with more recommendations, under this category. It offers several policies, guidelines and standards that need to be worked, and all of them are correlated to our 35 findings.
The next recommendation is that we establish a council of experts from the departments of VA, Justice and Defense. At the federal level, we need to jointly address emerging problems in this area, and we need to share and apply new protocols, standards and other research that may improve our prevention and response outcomes.
Next, if all of our recommendations are accepted, it would be impossible to make this happen without fiscal and manpower resources to make it happen. And we would hope that the new policy office would work with the DOD comptroller to beg for some money to make this happen, especially in the current and upcoming fiscal year.
The next recommendation has to do with data and its incompleteness. The best data that we could find were in the criminal investigative reporting areas, but there was spottiness in the collection of data on the care of victims. We need to do a better job of collecting information about the care of victims in how timely we are and the quality of that care.
There is (sic.) two steps that will be required in order to improve the data that we have.
First, the services need to complete their full implementation of the Defense Incident-Based Reporting System. It is a system that was developed for tracking all crimes within the department, not just sexual assault, but it's one in which the data from that would be extremely helpful to us in managing this problem.
Second, we believe that the new policy office needs to establish a working group that would propose data standards and systems solutions to ensure that information is available to better manage and adjust our programs through performance outcome measures.
The very last recommendation, the ninth, is a longer-term recommendation, and if accepted it would establish a framework for assuring that the new policies and programs that are being put into place will remain effective and efficient. This would be accomplished through periodic expert internal and external reviews, the development and execution of an annual research agenda, the implementation of quality improvement practices, and the development of oversight tools designed to track performance outcomes.
In closing, I have four requests.
First, please take some time to read the report. It's only 99 pages, and that includes appendices. There is much in it that I have not covered here, and I think the literature review chapter is particularly compelling.
Second, consider that the task force did find places of excellence. We found where individual commanders had taken it upon themselves to improve sexual assault awareness and response, and these are highlighted in the report. Now we have to build on their efforts.
Third, consider that this task force gathered its data, conducted its visits, did its analysis, and prepared and published this report in 75 days.
And finally consider that, in the course of this review, virtually all of the commanders and leaders we spoke to indicated strong commitment to do the right thing and a willingness to support the changes that would make a difference in this area.
As I'm sure you realize, sexual assaults are a challenge to our nation, and the U.S. military is not immune to this challenge. I know that the task force findings and recommendations are being thoughtfully considered, since some of the corrective actions we have recommended have already been initiated. I am confident that the Department of Defense can and will succeed in addressing this important issue.
Thank you. And I'm going to go back to Dr. Chu.
MR. CHU: Let me say one word, and then we'll be glad to take your questions.
As Ellen indicated, the department has already taken action in a couple of areas that the report touches on. The secretary wrote to the combatant commanders on April 30th -- and we'll have a a copy of that memorandum for you -- asking them to assemble their subordinates, their principal subordinates, and directing that this effort go all the way down the chain of command to the lowest level at which a commissioned officer leads a unit in the military. And at every level the secretary asks that the commander and his or her principal subordinates address three questions: First, do people in my command feel comfortable coming forward and reporting that an incident has occurred; second, do we have what we at least think in that command are appropriate ways to care for victims of sexual assaults; and finally, how are we going to move forward in this area in a constructive fashion?
And he's asked the combatant commanders to come back with their view based upon these sessions at the combatant commanders conference which will be held here later this month and I think will really be the place at which we debate the full range of recommendations that Ellen has described.
I have separately told the military departments that we do indeed need to complete the so-called DIBRS system, the Defense Incident-Based Reporting System that she described, at an early date. It's essentially a software issue in terms of how rapidly you can make the different reporting systems actually come together and address the issue.
Let me say as a concluding observation that what I take away from this report is the extraordinary benefit of prevention. We can and should improve our response should sexual assault occur, but once it occurs, a tragedy has happened and people are damaged. Many, if not most, of these women leave the service as a result of these incidents, and that loses us a highly trained, motivated individual, and that is indeed a loss to the nation. And so, over the longer term, the department will remain focused on how to preclude such incidents from happening in the first place.
And with that, Ellen and I would be proud to answer your questions, mostly Ellen, I should emphasize.
Q Can you give me your opinion, both of you, on why do you think it is the Department of Defense and the U.S. military was at the point that it was by the time you began your investigation in terms of the insufficiency of its programs for dealing with sexual assault? I mean, why had it gotten to the point that your effort was needed?
MR. CHU: Well, there'd been a great deal of attention given to this issue over some months. There were some highly visible incidents in the theater. I do take some issue with this question of where we are. We do have a number of programs in place. They're at the individual military department level. What I think, and Ms. Embrey's report emphasize, is the need for a more cohesive effort by the department as a whole and more consistent effort by the department as a whole, importantly because, thankfully, this is still a relatively low-incidence event. And so at the junior commander level, you will not necessarily see an incident like this during your tenure. And we can all appreciate how hard it is then if it happens, when you're the platoon leader. "What do I do?" I mean, you may dimly remember that, yes, they covered this in my preparatory training course. But we have to have a smooth enough set of response mechanisms that someone who has not encountered this before as a leader or someone who is herself a victim, or himself -- it does occasionally happen to males as well -- is a victim, knows what to do, knows where to go and takes the appropriate steps.
As I testified in late-February to the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, the department has succeeded in cutting the incidents, or the self-reported incidents in half from where it was in the mid-1990s, which I think is an important -- important progress. And our agenda is to reduce that further. The question of course here is, do we do a -- as good a job as we should be doing once an incident occurs? And that's why I think Ms. Embrey's report is so valuable, because it points to direction where we can indeed improve our response.
Q Excuse me, sir. Does the report address how to handle commanders who you find out were insensitive or didn't create a climate where their subordinates felt comfortable enough to report an incident?
MR. CHU: Ellen.
MS. EMBREY: We identified that in the report as findings. And our recommendation, obviously, is to provide sensitivity to commanders at all levels.
Q But if you find that they didn't create the climate, or if they weren't insensitive, will they receive any punishment?
MR. CHU: Well, this is the point of the secretary's memorandum to combatant commanders and the direction that these questions, including the question you're asking, ma'am, be asked all the way down the chain of command this month. In other words, this is not something to do tomorrow or when we get around to it, it's to be done now: do people feel comfortable? And he wants his most senior commanders to come back to him later this month and say okay, here's what I -- here's where I believe my command is on this front.
This is ultimately a command responsibility. And just as your question suggests, ma'am, it is critical that the commander set the right climate in his or her unit. And what we're really doing is saying -- is calling attention to that fact, emphasizing we want this discussed over the next several weeks, all the way down the chain, and then all the way back up. And the secretary expects to hear back from these most senior commanders at the end of the month as to what they believe the situation in their command might be. And it's obvious that we will monitor over time.
Q If there's confusion over the definition of sexual assault, what is it, so that we no longer can't -- and then you had made mention about addressing non-U.S. -- punishment for non-U.S. -- who perpetrate the crime against U.S. people. Was there something that was specific that led to that?
MS. EMBREY: Two questions you asked. (Pause.) I forgot the first one. Sorry.
Q The definition.
MS. EMBREY: The definition. Well, we haven't come up with a definition that we all agree to. That would be addressed at the summit. But we had a definition for the purposes of our task force. It had the -- it primarily covers rape, sodomy, attempted rape, attempted sodomy, indecent assault, and an attempt at any of those, or all of those. However, that is the task force's definition; each service has a different definition. And the UCMJ does not have an article that refers to sexual assault. It has several articles that fall under those acts. So, that is the reason why we want to get that summit together and to resolve that definition. We also have terms like sexual misconduct and sexual harassment, and other terms, and it's all very confusing. So we just want to clarify that.
And your second question?
Q The non-U.S. citizen attacking a U.S. citizen.
MS. EMBREY: There were incidents where coalition partners and other Iraqi citizens engaged in indecent assault or rape, attempted rape. And at the time, well, in Iraq there was no government with which to negotiate. So it was very problematic. But in addition to that, there were other instances in other places where the coalition partners that we were working with, we had not worked out agreements on how we would handle jurisdiction. And so, it was developed -- not early on. They had no guidelines. But guidelines were finally developed in March of this year. But it led us to believe that this is an issue that needs to be addressed, and that combatant commanders need to have an easy tool to develop what they need to take care of this issue, should it arise in their areas of operation.
MR. CHU: Sir.
Q Thank you. Because many of the cases that gave rise to this concern at this time emerged from the field, a lot of the testimony earlier this year from the Pentagon suggested that the problem really was one of deployed forces, that you had the problem well in hand for the forces that weren't deployed. And I couldn't tell from your review of your task force whether you were differentiating, or whether you find that there are these shortcomings for the whole force whether they're deployed or not.
MS. EMBREY: The scope of our review was to look at the department-wide rates, the incidents across the department, not just in theaters of operation. Although we were asked to specifically examine combat theaters, we looked at all of the incidents. And it occurs here in garrison in the United States, it occurs in combat environment, it occurs overseas. And we reported that, and we talked about the differences between a combat environment and an ongoing, day-to-day peacetime operation.
MR. CHU: But let me emphasize, I think you -- if that's what you heard from the testimony, then we were not successful in carrying forward our message. This is a problem for our society at large. As Ellen's report says deftly, we're not immune from that challenge.
One of the points we emphasized in testimony on February 25th to the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee was our incidence is highest in the most junior ranks. Not terribly surprising for a variety of reasons, including the fact that they're the newest members of the force, and so that the time we have to try to emphasize that we are aiming at a higher standard of behavior is much shorter and much less time for those programs to be effective.
Q Could I get you to go back to the original question about how this happened? I mean, frankly, most of what you're recommending here would seem to be fairly self-evident -- clearer standards, more emphasis on training, et cetera. How is it that 13 years after Tailhook, and what, six or seven now after Aberdeen, that we're still not there in developing these kinds of things and having them out there and having them observed? Where was the breakdown?
MR. CHU: I'm not sure there was a breakdown here. I think what you see is a department that is continually focused on doing better against these standards. In fact, although comparisons are very difficult, as I read the evidence, it's not clear we're all that different in terms of incidents raised from civil society. And that's a hazardous statement to put out there.
Q Well, actually, on that too, with all respect, the military prides itself from being different from civil society.
MR. CHU: Right. And we have reduced the rate. That is the one point that I think we have fairly firm evidence for, because we did do -- and I would challenge people to find a similar survey in civilian institutions -- wide-ranging survey in 1995. It was a product of considerable careful social science preparation, which allowed us to take the same survey questions and apply them in 2002 and look at the rate. And the rate does come down importantly between those two dates, roughly speaking in half. That's major progress on any social indicator in a seven-year period. So the department has given continuous attention to this.
Now, what the recent focus on it has produced, and I think it's reflective of Secretary Rumsfeld's underlying concern for the troops, the recent focus has been how do we get to the -- as people like to say -- the next level? How do we get this -- as different -- let me set the standard out here. The result we want to achieve is that same difference that this military has in terms of drug usage, which has largely been eliminated, not completely, but largely eliminated, which is unfortunately not true in the civil sector. So we'd like to see that same difference in this area, and we're not there yet.
And I think what the publicity surrounding the cases gave the secretary the encouragement to do is say, okay, I want a more organized program to get from here to there, and that program starts with what Ellen's report was tasked to do: where are we? And we have a lot of -- as she suggests, a lot of good pieces out there, but we need to put those pieces together in a more effective way, more cohesive way, so the department as a whole can be better focused on this issue.
Q This was initiated by the report of at least 112 incidents/cases in the current combat theater. Did the report update those numbers? And can you give us any specifics on the number of cases that you have now, and what you found out in terms of numbers about the availability in the current theater of rape kits, of the things that you need and the professionals that you need to process a case in theater and transporting victims, that sort of thing?
Second quick question on victim's advocate. Does the report specify what role the victim's advocate would play? Would that victim's advocate be the chief point person to keep a victim from having to report his or her story to a chain of commanders? What role would the victim advocate play?
MS. EMBREY: I think the role of a victim advocate would be up to the service and how they implement it in their structure. We outline what the victim advocate's role would be, but we did not say how it would be implemented within the services.
With respect to the numbers, the report -- the task force was formed in early February, so we had very little time in 2004. So we did not include any of the statistics in our report. We only asked for and included in our report data for calendar years 2002 and 2003.
I think the numbers for 2002 were 24 reported alleged cases, and in the CENTCOM combat theater there were 94 alleged cases reported. But that is for the calendar year being reported. It does not include any incidences reported on January 1st of this year or since then.
MR. CHU: Let me come to the Victim Advocate Report for just a second.
Q So it's 24 or 94?
Q You say -- you gave two different numbers.
MS. EMBREY: Twenty-four in 2002, 94 in 2003.
Q In the CENTCOM --
MR. CHU: In the CENTCOM area of operations.
MS. EMBREY: In the CENTCOM area, right.
MR. CHU: That's reports through official channels. I think one of the things to underscore in this area, as I think people here are aware, is this is a terribly underreported offense. That's why, to measure incidence, we will probably rely over the long run as our most important indicator the self-reports through anonymous surveys, which is what I cited earlier.
Let me just say a word, if I may, on the victim advocate issue. One of the reasons I'm intrigued with the notion that Ms. Embrey, I think, put forward, of a summit, because one of the things we need to come to is -- back to your question, sir consistency in the department on these questions of confidentiality, which intersects importantly with the issue you raised, and also this question of what the victim advocate's role is supposed to be. I think this will help in a more cohesive response when these incidents do occur.
Q In terms of administrative punishments, the record is clear, over the past 10 years, that Army commanders have preferred to use administrative punishments over criminal proceedings. This trend also has proven out overseas. Do you see a problem with commanders using that form of punishment over court martials?
MR. CHU: Let me take issue with you premise, sir, if I may. The reason I think you have that impression and why that impression is, unfortunately, widespread is for the reason that Ms. Embrey and her team identify in her report.
The system is not transparent regarding what actions we have taken when an offense occurs. And it's not transparent for legal reasons that are complex in nature, importantly intertwined with the Privacy Act. We are not -- I'll be specific -- we are not at liberty to say, in many cases, that we were ready to prosecute, but we did not prosecute because the victim asked us not to, and we honored that request.
And we did, however -- and this is why people reached the conclusion that you outline -- we did take administrative action for every offense we could prove south of the one where, as the legal people like to call it, quote, "the victim did not cooperate." I don't particularly care for that phrase, because this is a terrible event for the victim, and I understand situations where people will say, "I don't want you to prosecute. I don't want to be taken through this."
But where you do see us take action, therefore, in those situations is, we will take administrative action or we will take court martial-type action if we can in fact prove other offenses.
I think it's created a serious misimpression. It's a serious problem in terms of deterrence, because there is this view out there that somehow we don't actually prosecute. We do prosecute. But we cannot --
Q (Off mike.)
MR. CHU: Well, no. You have access to the records we can offer. You do not have access to the full files.
Q Dr. Chu, some have complained that the commanding officer is the judge and the jury for both the victim and the attacker. Are there any recommendations in the report that address that issue and make any recommendation, perhaps an independent person that victim could come to, to make these recommendations, somebody's who different from the person determining whether -- the guilt or innocence of the suspect?
MR. CHU: Ellen, do you want to start, and I'll come back to --
MS. EMBREY: Well, we didn't make recommendations, but we did -- the recommendation was to increase the transparency.
There was also a finding that said that commanders need to involve criminal investigators early in the process, once they recognized it as a sexual assault. It's a crime. And many do not recognize some of these incidents as assault and they tend to handle it as a harassment issue. And therefore, they are not -- they begin their own investigation process.
So we're recommending that an education process will improve this on the commander's part, as well as engaging investigators early so that the proper procedures will be followed and the proper level of attention will be given to it.
Q Do you think that structure, though, somehow discourages --
MR. CHU: The short answer, I believe, is no.
First of all, these actions in the end are reviewable. Commanders are -- ultimately, these crimes are an assault on the integrity and morale of a unit, and that reflects directly in the unit's performance, short and long term. And commanders are held responsible in this system, above all, for the performance of their units and by superior commanders, and are often relieved because of command climate issues. You've seen the spate of articles about the Navy's recent situations in that regard.
So it's -- the commander is not just a single person. There is a whole chain of command here. And the penalties trigger -- the penalties that you may wish to levy trigger at what level court martials, for example, have to be convened, and so on and so forth. So it's not just a single person in the chain of command.
No, I think it's a strong system. The issue is how can we make it more attentive, more focused and more effective in these situations.
Q What about recommendations to get a victim out of the unit or out of the situation where sometimes she might be stuck with the person she's accusing, and then also getting more rape cases appealed?
MS. EMBREY: In terms of safety and protection, we address that in the findings and we address it in our recommendations.
With respect to rape kits, early in the operation in Iraq, there were not sufficient rape kits and some of them had expired. They've replaced them all and they've had them in place and available for use since that time.
Q What were some of the recommendations, as far as leaving a victim with the unit?
MS. EMBREY: The recommendations had to do with -- it's sort of a complex issue.
First of all, the commander needs to be trained to be sensitive to the impact of a sexual assault on a victim. It could affect work performance; it could affect their feelings of safety. They have needs for protection. They need to be segregated in some cases from an offender, especially if they live nearby or in the same -- are in the same unit.
We discussed all of those things and we recommended that training as well as guidelines be provided to commanders to help them understand the importance of this.
MR. CHU: I think -- let me follow up, just a minute. Again, this is why we want to get the whole department together on exactly how to proceed in these circumstances.
As your question implies, ma'am, it's a little different for a civil situation, because the other side of that coin is, these are alleged offenses at that point. You want to be very careful not to allow people to create an issue for a commander that may or may not be there, to be direct about this. And so I would urge you, read the report. It has a nice section on the dilemma that this situation presents for a commander, particularly in the operational situation. I don't want to sound hard-hearted about it, but it is not -- there is not a straightforward answer to your question. And that's one reason I think Ellen's emphasis on guidelines -- how do you handle this, depending on the situation? -- is very important.
Q The victims that you talked to, is there any common experiences that they told you about? Or also, any particular cases -- I mean, obviously without too many specifics -- where you talked to a woman and you could pinpoint, this is how the system failed her?
MS. EMBREY: We asked the victims to provide to us how the system failed her, and it varied. In many cases, the commanders were very supportive of their circumstance. It was the process of investigation and the backlog in the forensic analysis, or the failure to provide timely legal assistance that ended up being a problem for some of them.
In other cases, the commander was insensitive to the fact that the assault was an assault. Some ignored it. Some responded to it by saying, "Oh we'll get you the help you need." When they came back to the unit a couple days later, they'd say, "Okay, you've been to the doc. You're ready to go." Just lack of sensitivity in some cases.
In other cases, there were issues in terms of finding and knowing where to go to get help. And when they went, they were moved from place to place, bureaucratic shuffle, if you will.
There's a lot of problems that victims encountered. But they were individual cases, and I don't think that any of us should take an individual's case and broaden it to the department, because as many stories as we heard from victims, there were other stories from other folks about people they did care for, from the providers perspective, and how good they felt about taking care of some of the victims that had come forward.
So I think it's dangerous, because we had a very small sample of people who volunteered to come forward. And I think that it went all over the ballpark in terms of issues and how the system failed. And we addressed all of those issues. We incorporated their recommendations to us in our findings.
MR. CHU: Ma'am.
Q I apologize if I missed this.
MR. CHU: I'm sorry?
Q I apologize if I missed this. When are you expecting action on these recommendations?
MR. CHU: The first actions have been taken. The secretary -- and I think the key to watch is the conference of combatant commanders, the most senior commanders we have, which will occur late this month. And my own view is the department's action, further actions will be decided as an outcome of that gathering in which we'll talk about some of the issues you're raising here this afternoon.
Q Going back, you said the rate has been cut in half since the '90s. What numbers are you using to base that on in terms of comparison?
MR. CHU: The rate from the survey -- and we have that separately; I don't have copies here this afternoon, but I can get through -- (to staff) -- do you have some, Colonel?
The department did a sexual harassment survey, which included in its definition "sexual assault." We had a continuum to deal with this issue of what is sexual assault. So they had 14 different behaviors spelled out in some detail, and you were asked about all these behaviors. And we coded it as to what we thought was sexual assault, what wasn't. The rate in the mid-1990s, if I remember correctly, was 6 to 7 percent; that's against the question -- "In the last year" -- and it's important to time frame here, because some of the data you see are lifetime data, some are in the last month kind of data. "In the last year, did any of these things happen to you?" And as I said, the survey was about more than assault, it was also about harassment. The rate that comes out of that for the force as a whole is about 6 to 7 percent. The rate in 2002 for the same question asked the same way is about 3 percent, 3 to 4 percent. So approximately cut in half.
Q What's the rate for women?
MR. CHU: What do you mean the rate?
Q You just said for overall force --
MR. CHU: That's women. I'm sorry. That's women. I apologize. Thank you very much.
Q And regarding the number, you went from 24 reported sexual assaults or allegations in 2002 to 94 in 2003 in the Central Command theater.
MR. CHU: Right.
Q Does that concern you? Obviously, there was an increase in the troop strength there, but that you have this dramatic increase?
MR. CHU: No, it's very consistent with the size of the force. You can't read any trend into it.
Q Well, I was going to touch on that. I guess part of the reason the report had to look at -- was given special issues in a combat theater, and these numbers were clearly going up during this deployment time. Was this part of the reason this report was done?
MR. CHU: The reason the report was done, really, is the secretary -- as I said, the secretary, in my experience in personnel issues across the board, not just this one, my lane, so to speak, in the department, Secretary Rumsfeld is constantly concerned with the welfare of the forces. Remember -- as I know you recall -- he was one of the earliest advocates of the volunteer force.
And so as discussion grew about the incidents in the Persian Gulf, the secretary directed my office to take a look at both what the situation was -- and Ellen's team visited Iraq and met with a large number of people in the theater, really focused on that theater as our deployed theater. They did video teleconference meetings with the Pacific Theater as well, but not as many as with the Central Command area of operation. The secretary's interest is, okay, what's our problem here; and do we need to improve, change, amend, modify our practices, especially when a deployed situation occurs?
So it's been an ongoing concern of this department. I think it's one reason we have reduced the rate over time. This secretary is very attentive to these kinds of issues. He's asked that basically we take a fresh look. That's what Ms. Embrey and team have done. I think it's a very useful summary of both where we are and where we need to think about going.
STAFF: Sir, I hate to cut you off, but that --
MR. CHU: Yes. We have to go. I apologize that we have to leave.
Q Can you do just one more?
MR. CHU: We'll do one more, for the lady in red, and that's it. I apologize.
Q Will you track the 2004 numbers as well, for comparison, as the end strength in combat theater --
MR. CHU: Yes, we will track those numbers. That's the point of improving this incident-based reporting system so we get a more consistent report across the board from all areas of the world.
Again, my thanks to you for coming this afternoon.
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