Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced in a memo on Thursday a series of new actions the Pentagon plans to take to combat sexual assault in the military.
At a briefing, Pentagon Press Secretary called the problem “a stain on the honor of our men and women who serve our country, as well as a threat to the discipline and the cohesion of our force.”
“It must be stamped out,” said Little, who outlined the new measures, including:
- Creating a legal advocacy program in each branch to provide legal representation to sexual assault victims throughout the judicial process;
- Ensuring that pretrial investigative hearings of sexual assault-related charges are conducted by judge advocates general (JAG) officers, people with legal training, rather than just commanders;
- Providing commanders with options to reassign or transfer a member who is accused of committing a sexual assault or related offense in order to eliminate continued contact with the alleged victim, while respecting the rights of both victims and the accused;
- Requiring timely follow-up reports on sexual assault incidents and responses to be given to the first general or flag officer within the chain of command;
- Directing the Defense Department’s inspector general to regularly evaluate closed sexual assault investigations;
- Standardizing prohibitions on inappropriate behavior between recruiters and trainers, and their recruits and trainees, across the department, and;
- Developing and proposing changes to the courts-martial manual that would allow victims to give input during the sentencing phase of courts-martial.
Not included were provisions that would take the reporting or prosecution out of the chain of command, something that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has advocated. Gillibrand and other senators have argued that victims do not feel that they can trust their commanders, some of whom are accused of committing assaults, to investigate and recommend prosecution.
The Pentagon has been adamantly opposed to any measure that completely removes the process of investigating or prosecuting the crimes from the chain of command. But Army Lt. Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, the director of the Joint Staff, told reporters that the Pentagon brass understands the issue and believes that the steps outlined represent a compromise.
“Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines know that today there’s about 10 avenues for them to report,” said Scaparrotti. “They also know that when they do report, it immediately goes to a military investigation office and law enforcement, and it’s handled by them. And they know that that’s outside the chain of the command of their commanders, in the unit that they are in.”
He said that those measures were taken specifically to address the issues of trust.
“We have to attack that because, frankly, we want increased, unrestricted reporting,” he said. “And we can only get that if [we] can work at the trust for a victim.”
Gillibrand praised the measures in a written statement, but said they don’t go far enough.
“The Pentagon taking action is a good thing and these are positive steps forward but it is not the leap forward required to solve the problem,” said Gillibrand, who noted that there have only been 302 prosecutions out of an estimated 26,000 cases.
” It is time for Congress to seize the opportunity, listen to the victims and create an independent, objective and non-biased military justice system worthy of our brave men and women’s service,” she said.
Scaparrotti told reporters that Defense Department leadership has been working with Gillibrand and other members of Congress to try and come up with solutions, and that there could be additional measures taken in the future.
“We’re looking at every possible idea, practice that’s out there to see what might help us get after this problem,” he said. “We believe there’s merit in many of the legislative issues. And some of those that are out there we’re still considering. “