News   Reform

Courageous Survivors, Leaders Are the Cornerstone of Sexual Assault Reform

May 21, 2021 | BY Terri Moon Cronk , DOD News

Survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military are an important voice in building a culture that supports victims and holds perpetrators accountable. The DOD's Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military wants to hear from those survivors.

The IRC is in the midst of a 90-day mission to collect information and present recommendations to President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III to prevent and respond to sexual assault and harassment in the military. Through survivors, IRC members want to get to the heart of common themes and experiences. 

Sailors hold up pieces of teal paper while standing in a formation on the deck of a ship.
Sailor Support
Sailors form a teal ribbon on the flight deck of the USS Arlington in Norfolk, Va., April 26, 2021, in support of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class John D. Bellino
VIRIN: 210426-N-PC065-3001C

"The words and experiences shared with us by survivors underscore the importance of the opportunities created by the secretary of defense when he directed immediate actions and chartered this commission," Neil Irvin with IRC's prevention effort, said. "Sexual assault and harassment are preventable and are central to the opportunities for this commission, highlighted by survivors, to address DOD's enterprise-wide efforts to stop sexual assault and harassment before it occurs," he added.

We are indebted to all the survivors who have come forward with their candid assessments and ideas, and we hope they will continue to do so."
Kris Rose, Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault

IRC members are identifying potential gaps to inform targeted recommendations that can lead to systemic change. Recommendations will focus on four lines of effort: accountability; prevention; climate and culture; and victim care and support. Survivors — veterans, reservists and active duty are encouraged to anonymously share their experiences and suggestions here. The feedback form opened on March 24, the day the IRC officially began, and closes on June 2.

Kris Rose, who co-leads the victim care and support effort, explained that survivors provide the depth, context and reality of sexual harassment and sexual assault that's often missing when examining policy and practice. "We are indebted to all the survivors who have come forward with their candid assessments and ideas, and we hope they will continue to do so. We couldn't do this work without them," she said.

IRC members particularly want to hear from junior enlisted service members about their experiences. Statistically, they are the most impacted by sexual assault; they are also tomorrow's leaders who hold the key to long-term, sustained change.

Teal and blue colored pinwheels in the ground.
Awareness Pinwheels
Teal and blue colored pinwheels are displayed onboard Naval Station Norfolk, Va., Apr. 28, 2021, in support of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, and Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month.
Photo By: David Todd, Navy
VIRIN: 210428-N-ST310-003C

As climate and culture in the military are concerned, IRC expert Army Lt. Col. Bridgette Bell said, "We are listening to these service members to understand how the climate of their unit affects their ability to feel safe and supported."

In addition to online feedback, members of the IRC are visiting installations — large and small, and speaking with troops overseas and stateside to connect with members of all the military services, including the National Guard and Reserves.

"Hearing from survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault allows us to better understand diverse experiences, including with their coworkers, chain of command and the military justice system," Sasha Rutizer with the accountability line of effort emphasized.

The IRC will make recommendations in late June.