Spokesman Says Commanders Essential in Stopping Sexual Assault
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 8, 2013 As Congress considers new legislation that could restrict military commanders’ authority to overturn sexual assault convictions, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said senior Defense Department leaders are “working through various options” to identify a way ahead.
Civilian and uniformed military leaders have consistently said that commander involvement is essential to changing the military culture and eradicating sexual assault crimes. Little indicated during a regular news briefing today that leaders haven’t altered their stance on the question.
“To my knowledge, there’s been no change in the department’s position on how to grapple with what we all know is a serious issue inside the military,” Little told reporters in response to questions.
“It’s important to many senior leaders in the department to try to address this problem inside the institution,” he said. “ … When it comes to getting at it, getting at this serious problem and fixing it, and holding people accountable, we think that we can work this internally.”
The press secretary said the department is working closely with members of Congress to find solutions. He noted that yesterday, Army Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton, director of DOD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, testified before a Congressional panel yesterday.
Little noted that a report released this week shows a rise in the number of sexual assaults over the past year, and attributed it to the military’s efforts to reach out to assault victims with a range of reporting options and medical and counseling services.
“We believe that this increase in reporting is consistent with a growing level of confidence in our response system,” he said.
Little said another telling metric is the growing number of service members who report assaults that occurred before they joined the military.
“We’re continuing to review these metrics to make sure that that’s in fact the case, but we don’t view an increase in reporting as necessarily a bad thing,” Little said. “In fact, it could be a positive development because victims of sexual assault might feel more comfortable coming forward.”
Little said DOD is working to “lock into place” just such a system, and that leaders hope to see an increase in the number of victims who choose unrestricted reporting, which opens the possibility for prosecution of alleged assailants.
Cultural and behavioral change is also key to reducing or eliminating sexual assault in the military, Little acknowledged.
“Our strong goal is to make sure that all U.S. military personnel, men and women … [live and work in] an environment free from this crime,” he said.
(Follow Karen Parrish on Twitter: @ParrishAFPS)