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Defense Official Says Preventing Sexual Assault, Harassment Is a DOD Priority

April 6, 2022 | BY Terri Moon Cronk , DOD News

The U.S. military and higher education communities have much to learn from one another in preventing sexual assault and sexual harassment, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks said today.

Speaking virtually, via prerecorded remarks, at the National Discussion on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at America's Colleges, Universities and Service Academies, Hicks said public discussions benefit everyone. The Navy is a co-host of the event. 

Aman in uniform walks with a woman.
Defense Discussion
Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks speaks with Space Force Brig. Gen. Todd R. Moore, deputy commander of the Space Training and Readiness Command, during a recent trip to Schriever Space Force Base, Colo.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Brittany A. Chase, DOD
VIRIN: 211213-D-BM568-1780A

"At the Department of Defense, combating sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military is a high priority for [Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III] and me. Doing so not only ensures that our service members serve in a healthy organizational climate -- which bolsters our readiness — but it is also the right thing to do," the deputy secretary said. 

That's why, Austin established an independent review commission last year and charged it with developing recommendations on how to advance efforts to counter military sexual assault and harassment, she noted. 

This independent body of experts with hundreds of individuals from across the department produced an evidence-based, comprehensive report with more than 80 recommendations, Hicks said. 

"We are now in the process of implementing all of the Independent Review Commission's recommendations, and we are developing metrics to track our progress in doing so," she said. 

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Hicks Briefing
Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks briefs the news media at the Pentagon, Sept. 22, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Brittany A. Chase, DOD
VIRIN: 210922-D-BM568-3268

Some of the department's areas of focus are reforming the military justice system, establishing a dedicated and specialized violence prevention workforce, and redesigning how DOD staffs, resources and professionalizes the sexual assault response workforce, Hicks said. 

She highlighted three areas of DOD action now underway to change culture and behavior: 

  • DOD aims to empower its service members with the knowledge, skills and training to prevent, recognize, report and respond to sexual harassment.  
  • Across the department, the staff is working hard to ensure healthy practices in its military workplaces. This means promoting inclusive environments across units and offices and targeting risk factors and negative cultures that lead to sexual assault, harassment and other readiness-impacting behaviors.

"The department also recently released the 2021 on-site installation evaluation report, which reflects a new and now-recurring effort that will help leaders up and down the chain of command identify key information to improve command climates. This will not only help to prevent sexual assault and harassment, but also prevent other harmful behaviors, such as suicide," Hicks said. 

  • DOD is taking steps to strengthen leadership-prevention competence.  

"This means training and selecting leaders who are not only committed to building and growing healthy climates, but to also demonstrate the skills we need to effectively prevent and respond to reports of sexual violence," she said. 

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Pentagon Departure
Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks leaves the Pentagon, April 22, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Brittany A. Chase, DOD
VIRIN: 210422-D-BM568-2832A

"Whether you are in higher education considering military service or civilian employment, just beginning your career at DOD, or a seasoned leader, prevention is truly an all-hands effort that begins with you," Hicks said.