The Army’s Approach To Sexual Assault Response & Prevention

January 28, 2009

One of the most under reported crimes in the United States and most likely the entire world is sexual assault. Sexual Assault is also one of the most horrendous crimes to be committed against a person and one that can have lasting and devastating effects on it’s victim, and often their family members and friends as well. This holds true in the military as well as the civilian world. On Monday, a Blogger’s Roundtable was held to announce some of the initiatives the Army is aggressively putting out there, to combat and hopefully reduce or eradicate the crime of sexual assault amongst its ranks. I’ll explain some of the new initiatives that the Army is doing to combat this horrific crime amongst it’s ranks. Victims of Sexual Assault often don’t report the crimes, for many reasons. Those reasons include but aren’t limited to, fear of reprisal from their attacker, fear of not being believed, the fear of having to relive the crime during the investigation and in court, etc. The list could go on and on. In the military, just like in the civilian sector, victims of sexual assault often don’t report these crimes committed against them. The statistics in the Army alone are staggering. In the years since 9/11/2001, 1,800 Soldiers have been punished for sexually assaulting their fellow Soldiers. That’s only the ones who were punished. That number doesn’t include those crimes where they may have not been enough evidence to prosecute, or those crimes that weren’t reported.

These are numbers that I know well, as my job involves working with victims of Sexual Assault as well as victims of Domestic Violence. Those numbers, as high as they may seem, are just the tip of the ice berg. I can say with absolute certainty, that many more sexual assaults occur in the military and in the civilian sector. Crimes that are never reported to authorities. That means that there are many victims out there, who are suffering in silence unnecessarily.

What do we generally think of when we hear the words sexual assault? I’ve asked that question of people many times and almost unanimously they say that when they hear those words, they picture a evil looking stranger breaking into a home or approaching a woman on the street, and forcibly raping her. Unfortunately, movies and television play a huge part in our perception of what we think of when we hear the words sexual assault. While there are sexual predators out there, who commit that type of sexual assault, that’s by far the minority of crimes that are reported. Instead, in a large majority of cases, the perpetrator is someone that the victim knows. Often it’s someone that they believed they could trust.

On Monday, I participated in a media roundtable event via teleconference, in which Army Secretary Pete Geren, Carolyn Collins program manager of the Army’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, Brig. Gen Rodney Johnson, the provost marshal general of the Army and Lt. Gen. Michael Rochelle, the Army’s deputy chief of staff and Lt. Gen Black of the Army’s Judge Advocate General talked to the media about what the Army is doing to combat and hopefully eradicate this horrific crime amongst it’s ranks.

Secretary Geren announced that he has approved the addition of legal personnel to help combat sexual assault amongst the ranks, a crime which he deems is “repugnant to the core values of the Army. In the Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps, 15 new prosecutors will be hired and a dozen or so trainers who have experience in prosecution or sexual assault litigation experience in one of many attempts to more effectively prosecute sexual assault and harassment in the Army.

“Since Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve had 1,800 Soldiers that have been punished for sexually assaulting a fellow Soldier,” Geren said. “Soldier-on-Soldier violence, blue-on-blue — sexual assault is a crime everywhere, but in the Army it is a crime that is more than just a crime against the victim. In the Army it is a crime against the core values that bind our Army together.”1

The new positions in the JAG corps will be filled from within the JAG corps by prosecutors who have proven themselves as especially effective prosecutors and those who also have experience prosecuting sexual assault. They will focus exclusively on sexual assault cases as well as on training the rest of the prosecutorial and defense staff on this type of criminal case. Each person chosen for these positions will have experience in prosecuting sexual assaults and they will have received specialized training as well. Each person picked for these positions will serve in that capacity for a minimum of 3 years. Many will be focused on the larger military installations, such as Fort Bragg, North Carolina and Fort Hood, Texas, where there are large concentrations of Soldiers. For example, at Fort Hood, the largest military installation in the Armed Forces, there are approximately 53,000 Soldiers stationed there.

Other measures that the Army is putting into place, are the hiring of an additional 30 special investigators for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. These 30 new agents will be assigned at 22 of the Army’s largest installations. Their primary focus will be to assist the Army’s CID agents in investigating the crime of sexual assault. According to Brig. Gen. Rodney Johnson, those new agents would provide insight into how civilian juries look at sexual assault cases and what kinds of evidence is needed to successfully prosecute a sexual assault crime. Those investigators would also be able to look at statistical data to identify sexual predators, as well as to get information on victim behaviors to aid in the investigative process. There will also be 7 highly qualified experts coming on board to assist in training and provide other assistance to the CID investigators.

“We at CID already have highly skilled agents investigating these crimes,” Johnson said. “But bringing the civilian expertise onboard will simply be a valuable tool to glean insight and a fresh perspective in many areas. Our special agents and supervisors will be working shoulder to shoulder with those highly qualified experts on our most challenging and complex cases.”2

Mrs. Collins mentioned a pilot program that the Army has started, where improvisational actors from Catharsis Productions are brought in to provide training. This new approach is called “Sex Signals.” The two pilot sites were Fort Hood, Texas and Fort Bragg, N.C. Each production lasts about 90 minutes, during which time the actors will act out various “dating’ type scenarios. The audience is very involved in the interactive training and walk away with a much different view on what may or may not be considered sexual assault. The production was so effective at Fort Hood, that the Fort Hood and III Corps Commander, Lt. Gen Rick Lynch has arranged for actors to come to Fort Hood each week to present the program to incoming Soldiers at Fort Hood. The program addresses different situations that a person might become involved in while dating and how it can easily turn from a consensual encounter to one of sexual assault. To further increase awareness about the problem of sexual assault in the Army, commanders will be receiving sexual assault prevention kits. Those kits are composed of DVDs, posters and other relevant information that can be distributed to their Soldiers.

With all of the new initiatives that are forthcoming, it’s hoped that sexual assault in the Army will dramatically decrease and eventually be totally eliminated. While that may seem like lofty and unreachable goals, it tells me that the Army is very serious about doing everything possible to eradicate this horrific crime from within its ranks. I’m excited about how proactive the Army is being when it comes to Sexual Assaults and my hope is that the other branches of the military will also be as proactive.

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2 Responses to “The Army’s Approach To Sexual Assault Response & Prevention”

  1. Some Soldier's Mom on January 30th, 2009 11:03 am

    I was not able to participate in this roundtable, but I have reviewed the materials and the official program documents — and it still gives way too much power to the attacker… For example, unless a soldier is willing to go through the formal investigation process — publicly — they must use the alternative process that allows them to be treated for the assault but leaves the attacker unidentified and unpunished — and requires the victim to remain (usually) in the same unit as their attacker AND his “friends”, no criminal investigation is conducted, etc.

    I personally know of a young soldier who was threatened with just that — after her NCO had been drinking with his female soldiers at AIT, he attacked this young girl in her barracks room. She was told after she filed for a formal investigation that they’d rake her over the coals in a formal investigation, that she’d be subject to corporal punishment and maybe jail if the case against her NCO wasn’t proven (and he was going to claim consensual sex)… but if she’d just drop the formal charges, they’d put in a transfer order to another unit… but when this 18 yr old girl withdrew the charges against her NCO, she was threatened with being charged with filing false charges and then was given the “opportunity” to be discharged… The papers she signed WITHOUT counsel included waiving all her rights to any benefits… This changed this woman’s life — and not for the better. She says that if she had to do it all over again, she would never have reported her rape… she thinks she would have gotten a better deal if she had killed the guy while he was in her room! Fortunately, she has now gone to the VA and registered with their military sexual assault counselor and is now receiving treatment.

    Until the process requires the investigation of every sexual assault… until every victim is protected from reprisal and punishment (unless false accusations are involved), and until the process is controlled by WOMEN and offers alternatives (like anonymous evidence gathering, immediate removal of victims from the unit of her attacker or removal of the attacker from the unit, etc.), women will refuse to report sexual assault. The Army and other branches of the military will never correct this problem until punishment is swift, terrible and assured.

  2. Terri on January 30th, 2009 11:35 am

    As an Installation Victim Advocate at an Army post, I can tell you, that while we’d love to have every victim of sexual assault report the crime (chose unrestricted reporting) so that the perpetrator can be prosecuted, it just doesn’t happen. The current system of having Restricted and Unrestricted reporting options was put into place to ensure that the victim themselves had more control over what happened in regards to their particular case. It allows them to choose if they wish to have law enforcement investigate the crime and have the perpetrator punished for what they did. Some just don’t wish to go that route, as they don’t want to deal with the whole investigation and court process and the intrusiveness that comes with it, but instead simply want counseling services and medical treatment only. The mililtary put this reporting options into place so that victims who chose not to go through with investigation and prosecution could still access those services. Since victims of sexual assault in the military have been given the choice of restricted or unrestricted reporting, the numbers of incidents reported to Victim Advocates, medical or chaplains has increased. Many have told us, if they were required to report it to law enforcement and endure the investigation that entails, the court proceedings, etc, that they would not have reported the incident or sought help. I can’t vouch for the programs at every installation, but I can for the one where I work. If a victim choses restricted reporting and opts not to go through the legal process, we make sure they are aware that they may still be working in close proximity to the perpetrator. We make sure they’re very aware of what it means not to have an investigation. Unfortunately, unless the sexual assault is reported as an unrestricted report, we have no way to effectively work to help the victims be removed from the unit, if the perpetrator is someone they work with. At our installation, all of our advocates ARE women, except for one. Another thing to keep in mind is the fact that there ARE male victims of sexual assault as well in the military. Many more than what you’d think. So it’s important to have male advocates in place as well.

    It sounds like the command in the incident that you spoke about, dropped the ball completely. I’m not sure how long ago that the incident occurred, but do know now, that directives from the Department of the Army are that commands who are aware of incidents of Sexual Assault in their units will do everything possible to support the victim and ensure they have exactly what they need. Most every installation has in place, proceedures that victims, advocates and other service providers can follow to elevate the incident to high level of commands if the people they’re dealing with aren’t doing the right thing.

    I do know that several states are now looking at adopting the same type of system as the military, where the victim has the choice of restricted or unrestricted reporting. The biggest reason for this, is that it leaves the VICTIM in control of what happens to them and their case. While the young lady you told about definately had a very bad experience, for the most part, that’s NOT the case (at least where I work). As a victim advocate, part of my job is to ensure that the victim is treated with utmost respect and care and provided all of the resources available, regardless of which reporting option she/he chooses. If we encounter trouble with a commander, then we have the option of going to the next in the chain of command to ensure the victim gets what he or she needs and deserves. At our installation, we have many safeguards in place to ensure our victims are taken care of appropriately and in a caring and supportive manner.

    The choice of how the case is reported is up to the victim, except in circumstances, where he or she has told someone outside those who have confidentiality. That is to ensure that the victim isn’t forced to do something that they don’t wish to do. I plan to write a follow-up article to this one, detailing the different reporting options that military victims have, as well as the services that are available to victims, both on and off military installations.

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