Sexual assault is a pervasive problem in the United States. One in five women report having been raped in their lifetimes, and many experience ongoing physical and emotional trauma related to this crime. The Obama Administration has taken on this serious issue, and has announced new initiatives across the federal government to respond to and prevent sexual assault.
Nowhere is our responsibility greater than in the military. Women and men who step forward to serve our country must be protected from this devastating crime, and offenders must be held appropriately accountable. Secretary Panetta has said loud and clear that sexual assault has no place in the United States military. Together with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, the Secretary is taking important steps toward achieving this vision.
On April 20, Secretary Panetta issued a directive that will require certain sexual assault complaints to be elevated to more senior levels of command. This significant change means that more experienced commanders will be making the initial disposition decisions for these cases. Specifically, the officers handling these cases will be at least in the grade of 0-6, meaning at least a colonel in the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force; a captain in the Navy, and must possess at least special court martial convening authority. This new policy underscores the gravity of these crimes and may give victims greater confidence to come forward.
The Department of Defense (DoD) recently has taken other steps to continue the fight against sexual assault. Victims can now request an expedited transfer to leave their unit or installation and records are retained for a longer period of time making it easier for veterans to file a service-related disability claim. Victim advocacy services and a confidential reporting option are now available to military spouses and adult military dependents, and emergency care will be available to DoD civilians reporting sexual assault while stationed abroad.
Taken together, these policies demonstrate DoD’s strong commitment to eradicating sexual assault within the ranks of the United States military. DoD and the Administration will continue to make this issue a top priority. The men and women serving our nation deserve nothing less.