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Former White House Advisor to Lead DOD Commission on Sexual Assault

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The Defense Department announced today that Lynn Rosenthal will head an independent review commission on sexual assault in the military, the Pentagon press secretary said.

"To carry out the president's direction, [Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III] ordered the establishment of a 90-day independent review commission on sexual assault in the military ... to review department policies and processes as directed by the president," John Kirby said during a briefing today. "The secretary has designated Lynn Rosenthal, formerly the first-ever White House advisor on violence against women and a longtime advocate for survivors of gender violence, to lead this commission."

A woman stands behind a lectern. In the rear, a sign on the wall reads "The Pentagon - Washington."
Press Briefing
Lynn Rosenthal, the chairperson of the Pentagon’s new sexual assault independent review committee, briefs the media at the Pentagon, Feb. 26, 2021.
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 210226-D-BN624-0253

In addition to the independent review commission, Austin has also directed actions to bring the department in compliance with evidence-based practices to ensure accountability of sexual assault and harassment efforts at every level across the department, Kirby said.

"Every member of the total force deserves a workplace free of sexual assault and harassment and personal fear," Kirby said. "We must commit ourselves to eliminating this illegal and corrosive behavior."

All Options on the Table

"The trauma and life-altering effects of sexual assault are devastating in any context," Rosenthal said. "What I'm struck by here, as I listen to stories of military survivors, is how much their service meant to them, how their life was about this dream of serving in the military, and the dream was a part of their identity. And for many, their dreams were shattered by the trauma of sexual violence and sometimes retaliation for coming forward. This must end."

While the commission's primary task is to provide accountability for those who commit crimes of sexual assault, Rosenthal also said the commission will be looking at climate, culture and prevention.

Right now, she said, the commission is working with Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks on developing a charter for the commission. Rosenthal said within 60 days the commission will have initial recommendations, including those on accountability issues.

A woman stands behind a lectern. Nearby, a man stands with his arms folded in front of him.
Press Briefing
Lynn Rosenthal, the chairperson of the Pentagon’s new sexual assault independent review committee, briefs the media after being introduced by Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby, Feb. 26, 2021.
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 210226-D-BN624-0311

The commission's membership will include military leaders, former military leaders, advocates for those who have been sexually assaulted, and experts on the crime of sexual assault, she said.

"We want to hear a diversity of views from every level of the services and in civilian society," Rosenthal said. "We will take all of those views into account in our deliberations and our recommendations."

Discussions about solving the sexual assault problem within the ranks and improving the climate so that those who are sexually assaulted feel comfortable coming forward have frequently involved the idea of removing commanders from the process of investigating sexual assaults. Rosenthal said that is something that will be looked at by the commission.

"The president and the secretary have said that all options should be on the table," she said. "I don't think we have a predetermined outcome of this question, which we must very carefully examine."

By 90 days, she said, the commission's work will have finished, but work on sexual assault in the military will continue long after it is done.

"I think the secretary is our greatest asset in fighting this problem," she said. "He gets it so deeply. He cares about it so much. He cares about his service members. And, so, the commission ends in 90 days, but the implementation of the recommendations will certainly continue."

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