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Pentagon Anounces Serious Steps Combating Military Sexual Assault

The Pentagon

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army General Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Cheifs of Staff, spoke to reporters after holding a meeting with three members of the House of Representatives where they discussed the matter of sexual assault in the military. Panetta stated that “General Dempsey and I consider this a serious problem that needs to be addressed. It violates everything the U.S. military stands for.”

According to the release:

Panetta and Dempsey met with Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California, Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, and Rep. Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts. Sanchez chairs the Caucus on Women in the Military, while Turner and Tsongas co-chair the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus.

Panetta also stated “Service members and their families must feel secure enough to report this crime without fear of retribution, and commanders must hold offenders appropriately accountable.”

Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine Corps Captain and the Executive Director for SWAN stated “This announcement represents the biggest step that DOD has taken thus far to combat military sexual assault. SWAN has advocated staunchly for heightened case disposition authority for a number of years now, specifically at the General level. Withholding disposition authority at the Colonel (Navy Captain) level is a huge step in the right direction. We hope it will have the intended effect of ensuring sexual assault cases are handled by more experienced officers who are better equipped to properly determine the disposition of these difficult, complex criminal cases.”

She went on to say “But this is not and cannot be the end. Organizationally, we are still pursuing key military justice reforms for sexual assault cases that include civil remedies for sexual assault survivors. When service members can bring their perpetrators, negligent commanders, or the U.S. government to civil court and sue for damages because of their treatment within the military, it will ensure that military sexual assault cases are properly handled by military leadership, including at the Colonel level. We will continue to listen to the voices of service members and veterans who make up our constituency to advocate for critical solutions that impact the military culture at large, and continue to forge partnerships in Congress and within the DOD to advocate for change that makes a concrete difference. We commend both Secretary Panetta and the members of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus and the Women in the Military Caucus for these steps forward.”

Representative Niki Tsongas said “We have heard over and over again that it is not just the military’s sexual assault policies that must improve, but even more importantly the culture of the services when it comes to confronting these assaults. Secretary Panetta’s decision to elevate the review of sexual assaults to the Colonel rank and to provide resources for far more comprehensive investigations into these assaults is an important acknowledgement of the unique nature of this crime and the seriousness with which it must be dealt.”

The initiatives includes:

– Establishing with congressional approval a “special victims’ unit” within each service composed of specially trained experts in evidence collection, interviewing and working with victims;

– Requiring that sexual assault policies be explained to all service members within 14 days of their entry into active duty;

– Allowing National Guard and Reserve personnel who have been sexually assaulted to remain on active duty status to obtain the treatment and support afforded to active-duty members;

– Requiring a record of the outcome of disciplinary and administrative proceedings related to sexual assault and retaining the records centrally;

– Requiring commanders to conduct annual organizational climate assessments to measure whether they are meeting the department’s goal of a culture of professionalism and zero tolerance of sexual assault;

– Enhancing training programs for sexual assault prevention, including training for new military commanders in handling sexual assault matters; and

– Mandating wider public dissemination of available sexual assault resources, such as DOD’s “Safe Helpline,” a 24/7 helpline via Web, phone or text message operated by the nonprofit Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network.

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