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DOD, Services Moving Ahead on Recommendations to Combat Sexual Assault

Last year, an independent review commission ordered by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III put forth an array of recommendations designed to stop sexual assault and harassment in the military. Today, the Defense Department is well underway in implementing those recommendations, said the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. 

Two men place a flag on a flagpole as another man watches.
Sexual Assault Prevention
Col. Josh Bookout, right, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division Commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Thinh Huynh, front left, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division Command Sergeant Major, add a flag with the words, "You Are Not Alone" to the brigade flagpole to kick off the annual Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, April 1, 2021.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Alan Brutus
VIRIN: 210401-A-AK380-037A

On Capitol Hill Wednesday, Gilbert R. Cisneros Jr. told lawmakers at the House Armed Services Committee that the Defense Department now has a framework in place to track the implementation and effectiveness of its efforts and to provide regular progress reviews through senior leadership forums that includes membership from across the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the services. 

"The level of oversight is a significant departure from previous reforms efforts in this area, and not only are we making progress, we're building the infrastructure needed to make real, lasting change and rebuild trust with our service members," Cisneros said. 

One part of that infrastructure, Cisneros said, is development of a professional sexual assault and sexual harassment workforce. 

Airmen build a display of teal ribbons.
Awareness Ribbons
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Rebecca Willemstein, 138th Security Forces Squadron, and Breanna Ault, Student Flight, place teal-colored ribbons near high-traffic areas to bring awareness of the campaign to eliminate sexual assault within the military.
Photo By: Sr. Master Sgt. Roberta A. Thompson. Air National Guard
VIRIN: 180407-Z-TK779-3001C

"At full operating capacity [it] will include over 2,000 personnel stationed around the world," he said. "The department has worked to create a targeted recruitment plan to support the services in their hiring efforts, and I established a dedicated direct hiring authority, which I signed out last week, to more quickly identify and onboard these prevention workforce professionals." 

The DOD is also working with the military services to professionalize the victim response workforce, Cisneros said. Professionalization of that task means the Defense Department and services would no longer need to rely on military members who may be doing that same work now as a collateral duty in addition to their regular military job. Additionally, as part of an effort to regain the trust of victims of sexual assault and harassment, that workforce will be outside the chain of command. 

Cisneros also told lawmakers the department will soon reach initial operating capability with its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Training and Education Center of Excellence. 

An aerial view of the Pentagon.
Aerial View
An aerial view of the Pentagon, May 11, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Brittany A. Chase, DOD
VIRIN: 210512-D-BM568-1287R

"Another significant undertaking at the [Defense] Department is military justice reform, through the implementation of the Offices of Special Trial Counsel," Cisneros said. "This effort will ensure independent expertise and prosecutorial decisions and is essential to the restoring of trust and to hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable." 

According to Cisneros, the Offices of Special Trial Counsel will ensure independent, specialized expertise in prosecutorial decisions for the covered offenses of sexual assault, domestic violence and related crimes. 

"The department has clearly heard from our service members that action and change are desperately needed, and the department is answering that call," Cisneros said. "Getting this right requires we move as expeditiously as possible to implement change, while also ensuring we do not rush to failure." 

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