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General Explains New Defense Department Sex-Assault Policy

By Terri Lukach
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2005 – The new guidelines for reporting incidents of sexual assault within the military create, for the first time, a departmentwide standard that will both provide victims with the support they need after an incident occurs, and help commanders get to root cause of the problem, the head of the Pentagon joint task force for sexual assault prevention and response said here today.

In an interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel, Air Force Brig. Gen. K.C. McClain expanded on the new policy, announced March 18.

Before, McClain said, there were "pockets of excellence" but no overarching policy for contending with sexual abuse. The new policy "provides a framework for how the department will respond," she said. The new guidelines are expected to take effect in mid-June.

"Sexual abuse crimes create a sense of powerless in the victim, a loss of control," McClain said, "and the official investigative process can be overwhelming." It is primarily this sense of being overwhelmed and powerless that causes victims to forgo reporting an incident of sexual abuse, the general added.

The new policy allows the victim to report the incident and receive medical treatment, care and counseling while at the same time giving the victim more time and control over the release and management of personal information. In short, it allows the victim "to come forward without initiating the reporting process," she said.

McClain said the new policy will not limit commanders from addressing problems of abuse within their commands. "Quite the contrary," she said. "Now commanders will have more information about the scope and nature of the problem within their organizations. It will allow them to adjust their prevention efforts and judge the effectiveness of their training program." It also creates a universal policy, across all services, McClain said, which is particularly important in this new era of joint operations.

"It is critical that the same policy be applied across the Department of Defense," she said. "Otherwise, we could have different forms of confidentiality, or even different access to services, varying by location. That would not only be confusing," she said, "but also inequitable."

The message of the new policy, McClain said, is that while complete reporting and accountability is preferable, the first priority is to ensure that victims are protected, that they are treated with dignity and respect, and that they receive the medical treatment, care and support they deserve. Confidentiality does two things, McClain said: It gets victims the care and support they need, and it gives commanders information they don't currently have that allows them to get at the root cause of sexual abuse.

"Everyone in the Department of Defense has a role in prevention and response -- regardless of rank, position, duty title or assignment," the general said. "That role, she added, is "to understand what behavior constitutes sexual assault, and to send a message to co-workers and friends that those behaviors are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

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Brig. Gen. K.C. McClain, USAF

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