New DoD Sexual Assault Policy Affords Victims Privacy
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 18, 2005 New guidelines for confidential, restricted reporting of sexual assaults in the Defense Department were announced today in a Pentagon briefing.
"The policy allows victims - and here's the big change - to report a sexual assault to specified individuals without necessarily initiating an investigative process," David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said. "(It) will still give them access to medical care, counseling and victim advocacy."
The specified individuals include sexual assault response coordinators, certain health care providers, victim advocates and chaplains. Chaplains, Chu said, already possess that privilege under the current system.
Chu said the department believes this policy change will encourage more victims of sexual assault to come forward and seek help. More accurate reporting will provide commanders a more accurate view of what is happening within their commands, as well, he said.
"Although the department would prefer complete reporting of sexual assaults to activate both victim services and accountability actions, we believe our first priority needs to be (for) our victims to be protected, to have them treated with dignity and respect and to receive the medical treatment, care and counseling that they deserve," Chu said.
This option, he explained, provides the victim with more time and control over the release and management of personal information. He acknowledged that victims may not be ready to initiate an investigation immediately after an assault, and said the hope is that the design of the policy will empower them to seek information and support that will allow them to make an informed decision about participating in a criminal investigation.
The policy also aims to balance the needs of the victims with the needs of commanders, Chu said. Within 24 hours of a sexual assault where the victim chooses to seek care but not pursue an investigation, commanders will be informed of the incident. The commander will not get personal identifying information about the victim, however.
"This new policy, we are convinced, will provide commanders with a clearer picture of sexual violence within their organization because they will be informed of offenses that had previously gone unreported," Chu said.
He also said that the magnitude of the change requires "extensive, in-depth training" for all department personnel. This is especially true for commanders, senior enlisted advisers, investigators, healthcare providers and others involved in sexual assault response.
The new sexual assault prevention policy was originally announced in January. The confidential and restricted reporting portion is due to take effect in mid-June, Chu said. The message the department hopes comes across loud and clear is that sexual assault is a crime that won't be tolerated, he added.
"We hope that our proactive stance will enable the department to create a safer and more cohesive military community," Chu said. That community includes the three military service academies, which have had sexual harassment woes in the recent past.
Joseph E. Schmitz, DoD inspector general, revealed in broad strokes the results of a recent and very specific survey of academy cadets and midshipmen -- the first three-academy survey on the same issues at the same time.
"We ... established a very solid survey tool in conjunction with Dr. Chu's office and his experts in surveys," Schmitz said. "We asked some very tough questions and we bent over backwards to provide confidentiality for the survey takers."
The department made arrangements so that academy computers and networks did not have to be used to protect the survey takers' privacy. The survey collected information from all of the female cadets and midshipmen and resulted in more than 1,900 usable survey responses. A scientifically derived sample of roughly one-third of the men at each academy took the survey as well.
The full results of the survey, Schmitz said, are available today on the DoD Office of the Inspector General's Web site. Schmitz said the survey should provide a good picture of the situation at the academies.
"The survey, I believe, will provide a very solid baseline for commanders at the academies and leaders in the department and leaders on Capitol Hill and other organizations that are concerned about these challenges," he said. "In a general sense what we validated was some of the challenges that we surveyed on last year at the Air Force Academy the other academies are facing."
What they found is there are serious challenges to the honor codes and concepts at all three academies. They also gleaned information regarding the confidence of cadets in midshipmen from the very top of the command structure down to the cadet and midshipmen leaders themselves.
"We've identified some trends that I think the commanders will need to be working on in terms of training and dealing with these challenges," Schmitz said.
The survey also revealed 302 sexual assaults. Of those, one-third were reported, a figure Chu said is on par with civilian colleges. While that's not exactly surprising, Chu said, DoD expects more of its cadets and midshipmen.
"The standard is not to produce noncriminal officers," Schmitz said. "Our bar is way higher than that. Our goal is to produce military leaders of character. And obviously sexual assaults are not a good indication of character."
As required by statute, Chu said, the survey will be continue at the academies at the same time each year to find trends.