Initiatives Targeting Sexual Assault
January 19, 2012
Sexual assault has no place in the
Defense Department, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today,
calling the crime “a stain on the good honor of the great majority of
our troops and their families.”
Panetta announced four initiatives today designed to aid victims and
strengthen prosecution of military sexual assault cases. He said a
“broader package of proposals” soon will follow two new sexual assault
policies the department announced in late December.
“When I was sworn into the office of secretary of defense, I said that I
had no higher responsibility than to protect those who are protecting
America,” Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon. “Our men and women in
uniform put their lives on the line every day to try to keep America
safe. We have a moral duty to keep them safe from those who would attack
their dignity and their honor.”
The secretary said 3,191 sexual assaults were reported in the military
last year, but because historically only a fraction of such crimes are
reported, the true incidence of sexual assault likely approaches 19,000.
Troops willing to fight and die for their country “are entitled to much
better protection,” he said.
Some of the proposals rolled out in coming months may require
legislative action, the secretary said, but he noted he already has
worked with department, Joint Staff and service leaders to develop and
launch four approaches aimed at strengthening victim care and
“First, I’ve directed the establishment of a DOD sexual assault advocate
certification program, which will require our sexual assault response
coordinators and victim advocates to obtain a credential aligned with
national standards,” Panetta said. “This will help ensure the victims of
sexual assault receive the best care from properly trained and
credentialed professionals who can provide crucial assistance from the
moment an assault is committed.”
The secretary said he also has directed DOD to expand assault victim
support to include military spouses and adult military dependents, who
can now file confidential reports and receive the services of a victim
advocate and a sexual assault response coordinator. “This was not the
case before,” he added.
“In addition, we’re going to ensure that DOD civilians stationed abroad
and DOD U.S. citizen contractors in combat areas receive emergency care
and the help of a response coordinator and victim advocate,” Panetta
The secretary’s third approach increases training funds for
investigators and judge advocates, “because sexual assault cases are
some of the toughest cases to investigate and prosecute,” he said.
Officials said the funding increase is $9.3 million over five years.
The department also is creating an integrated data system to track
sexual assault reports and monitor case management, Panetta added, “so
that we’ll have a comprehensive database for information available later
Panetta said his fourth current effort against sexual assault in the
military focuses on prevention and leader training.
“Our leaders in uniform – officers and enlisted – are on the front lines
of the effort,” he said. “They have to be. We must all be leaders here.
For this reason, I’m directing an assessment, due in 120 days, on how we
train our commanding officers and senior enlisted leaders on sexual
assault prevention and response, and what we can do to strengthen that
The secretary also summarized two new policies announced Dec. 27.
“The first … gives victims who report a sexual assault an option to
quickly transfer from their unit or installation, to protect them from
possible harassment and remove them from proximity to the alleged
perpetrator,” he said. Defense officials explained this option is
available only to service members who file unrestricted reports of
A restricted report, which is confidential, allows a victim to seek
medical aid and counseling, but is not communicated to the chain of
Service members who file a transfer request under the new policy are
entitled to a response from their unit commander within 72 hours,
officials said. If the request is denied, service members can appeal to
a general or flag officer or senior civilian in the chain of command and
receive a response within an additional 72 hours.
The second policy requires that written, unrestricted reports of sexual
assault to law enforcement officials be retained for 50 years, Panetta
said. “The reason for that is to have these records available so that it
will make it easier for veterans to file a claim with the Department of
Veterans Affairs at a later date,” he explained.
relating to restricted reports will be retained for five years,
The secretary said the new policies and other initiatives are important
steps, but he is determined sexual assault response and prevention will
remain a top priority.
“There's much more work to be done to prevent this crime, and we will be
announcing additional initiatives over the coming weeks and months,”
The secretary addressed his closing remarks directly to military victims
of sexual assault.
“I deeply regret that such crimes occur in the U.S. military,” Panetta
said. “And I will do all I can to prevent these sexual assaults from
occurring in the Department of Defense. I'm committed to providing you
the support and resources you need and to taking whatever steps are
necessary to keep what happened to you from happening to others.”