Sexual Assault Prevention Chief Wants to Build on Progress
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 2, 2014 Despite headway regarding victims reporting sexual assault, the Defense Department is not content with its progress, the director of the DOD Sexual Assault Prevention Office said yesterday.
Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, director of the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, briefs the media on the 2014 annual Sexual Assault Report at the Pentagon, May 1, 2014. DOD photo by Marine Corps Sgt. Aaron Hostutler
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Snow, joined by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Dr. Nathan Galbreath, senior executive advisor to Snow’s office, discussed the latest annual report during a Pentagon news conference.
“While we see indications that our efforts over the last year and a half are having an impact, it does not mean that we are satisfied with our progress,” Snow said. “We will continue to encourage greater reporting while reducing the occurrence of this crime by improving our prevention measures.”
The general reminded reporters, as Hagel did, that sexual assault is an underreported crime, so the department took steps to increase victims’ confidence in the response system.
“The department takes action in every case where it has jurisdiction and sufficient evidence to do so,” Snow said.
“This year, commanders had sufficient evidence to take disciplinary actions against 73 percent of alleged offenders.” This is up from 66 percent from the prior year, he added.
Discussing details of the congressionally mandated annual report, Snow noted that this year’s report was organized by the five lines of effort approved in Hagel’s strategic plan last year: prevention, investigation, accountability, advocacy, and victim assistance and assessment.
“In the report, we have detailed the policy and program enhancements made in [fiscal year 2013] to prevent and respond to the crime,” he said, highlighting three of the efforts.
“We created the special victims counsel program,” he said. This offers legal consultation and representation to victims of sexual assault throughout the justice process, with more than 185 attorneys directly supporting victims, Snow said.
Additionally, Snow said, new methods of assessing the performance of military commanders and enlisted leaders in establishing command climates of dignity and respect were enacted through a system of unit surveys and performance evaluations.
The general’s third example of “numerous” efforts detailed in the report was that each of the services has fielded a special victim capability. “This is a program designed to improve collaboration between specially trained investigators, prosecutors and legal personnel who respond to allegations of sexual assault, child abuse and domestic violence,” the general explained.
“This capability improves our ability to identify evidence, support victims, and hold offenders appropriately accountable,” he added.
Snow said the department’s assessment of increased willingness of victims to report the crime of sexual assault is supported by an additional metric showing an increase in reports of incidents occurring prior to military service. “Ten percent of reports made this year were for incidents of sexual assault that occurred prior to military service,” he said. “This figure has never exceeded 4 percent.”
The percentage of alleged sexual assault offenders receiving some kind of disciplinary action has been growing each year, Snow said. “We believe this reflects an investment in the training of our investigators and prosecutors,” he added.
The bottom line, he said, is that commanders are taking allegations of sexual assault very seriously and are holding offenders appropriately accountable.
Snow said prevention is the best way to stop sexual assault, and he pointed to the Hagel’s updated sexual assault prevention strategy designed to institutionalize a comprehensive approach across the department. “Using this strategy,” he said, “we will intensify our efforts at every level of military society to prevent this crime.”
The general discussed directives designed to enhance DOD sexual assault programs, such as promoting healthy relationships, evaluating commander training, reviewing alcohol policies, increasing male reporting and an online forum to share resources and innovation.
Snow said the department is “encouraged” by the increase in reports, which he said reflects senior-leader focus and improved victim confidence.
Galbreath said he believes the increased reporting reflects the department's “seriousness in looking at this crime.” What was discovered, he said, is that because of the underreporting of sexual assault, commanders rarely saw these events out in the field.
“Few of them really knew the counterintuitive nature of this crime and how offenders worked,” Galbreath said. “We’ve been working very, very hard to educate them, and also our criminal investigators and our attorneys that work these crimes.
“We believe that what you see is a return on our investment -- that people are smarter about how sex offenders behave,” he said. “They’re no longer buying into the rape myths that are common in our society. And this is a direct reflection on our training and investment.”
In elaboration he provided to American Forces Press Service, Snow explained how, under the direction of the Hagel and Congress, the department’s response system is fundamentally different from the system that existed two years ago.
“We have constructed a system of checks and balances,” he said, enhancing the department’s capabilities with professionally certified victim advocates and specially-trained investigators and prosecutors.
“Senior leaders have put the full weight of the department towards implementation of the more than 60 provisions of law since [fiscal year 2012],” said the general added.
He noted that the current National Defense Authorization Act has provided the most sweeping reform to the Uniform Code of Military Justice since 1968, and that DOD continues to work toward being a national leader on sexual assault prevention and response.
“We welcome continued collaboration with leaders in Congress,” Snow said.
(Follow Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallAFPS)