Military Steps Up Battle Against Sexual Assault
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2010 The military is addressing the problem of sexual assault, but more needs to be done, officials acknowledged in testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday.
Kaye Whitley, chief of the Defense Department’s sexual assault prevention and response office, Louis Iasiello, the co-chair of the Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services, and Brig. Gen. Sharon K.G. Dunbar, Air Force director of force-management policy and deputy co-chair and member of the task force, briefed the committee on progress to date and what remains to be done.
Iasiello, a retired Navy rear admiral, said the task force visited 60 installations around the world and interviewed more than 3,500 people, including 61 victims of sexual assault. The people ranged from military police to prosecutors to victim-rights advocates to medical personnel. The task force also spoke with leaders and commanders at all levels. The group presented its report to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Dec. 1.
“The report recognizes the progress [the Defense Department] has made in victim response since it inaugurated its sexual assault prevention and response program in 2005,” Iasiello said.
He detailed some of the task force’s conclusions and how they affect the Defense Department. The group recommended that the deputy secretary of defense take responsibility for the sexual assault prevention and response office for at least a year or until the defense secretary assures Congress that the office is meeting its goals. The task force also recommends that the office become permanent and that reporting requirements, terminology and treatment be standardized across the services.
Another recommendation calls for victim advocates to receive training to meet national accreditation standards. The advocates should be Defense Department civilians or uniformed personnel, and not contractors, Iasiello said.
The task force also recommended more research into sexual assault prevention and response to ensure the best practices are in place throughout the services.
Dunbar stressed that prevention should be the No. 1 priority for the sexual assault prevention and response office. She complimented the Army for its program and said the rest of the services are following that lead. “Treatment of victims has demonstrably improved, but much more needs to be done in that area,” she said.
The general called for more consistency among the services, given the prevalence of joint operations. She said more consistency is needed between the active and reserve components, but admitted that not enough research or data are available to prove that need.
And the sexual assault prevention and response office itself needs to expand, Dunbar said. “It was founded to address victims’ issues,” she explained, “but it needs to address prevention and data accountability and consistency.”
Prevention is key, and it needs to include bystander intervention and community awareness, Dunbar said. She said training to prevent sexual assault needs to be a continuum, and that military personnel should receive this training at various key points in their careers. Prevention, she said, needs engaged leadership and increased awareness and candid discussion at all levels.
This is an important initiative, Whitley said. “Sexual assault levies a tremendous human toll, disrupts lives and destroys the human spirit,” she said. “We have made progress, but we know we have much more to do.”