U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is directing the armed services to take more steps to help victims of military sexual assault.
Hagel says the additional measures will improve victim support, strengthen pretrial investigations, enhance oversight, and make prevention and response efforts more consistent across the military services.
The measures include:
- Creating a legal advocacy program in each military service that will 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
- 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 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 DoD'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
- Developing and proposing changes to the Manual for Courts-Martial that would allow victims to give input during the sentencing phase of courts-martial
Hagel said that all of these measures will provide victims additional rights, protections, and legal support, and help ensure that sexual assault-related investigations and judicial proceedings are conducted thoroughly and professionally.
In addition, the Department of Defense has established an independent panel, in accordance with the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, which is currently reviewing and assessing the systems used to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate crimes involving sexual assault and related offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, he said.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D. - NY) issued the following statement after the Pentagon issued new policies to address sexual assault in the military:
"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. As we have heard over and over again from the victims, and the top military leadership themselves, there is a lack of trust in the system that has a chilling effect on reporting. 302 prosecutions out of an estimated 26,000 cases just isn't good enough under any metric. 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."