Panetta Announces Initiatives Targeting Sexual Assault

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18, 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 pro­tec­tion.

“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 said.

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 this year.”

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 train­ing.”

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 sex­u­al assault.

A restrict­ed report, which is con­fi­den­tial, allows a vic­tim to seek med­ical aid and coun­sel­ing, but is not com­mu­ni­cat­ed to the chain of com­mand.

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.

Records relat­ing to restrict­ed reports will be retained for five years, offi­cials said.

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,” Panet­ta said.

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.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)