USA — Departments Collaborate to Combat Sexual Assault

WASHINGTON — The depart­ments of Defense and Vet­er­ans Affairs have made sig­nif­i­cant strides in assist­ing sex­u­al assault vic­tims, but more work remains to be done, the direc­tor of the Defense Department’s sex­u­al assault pre­ven­tion and response office said today.

Sex­u­al assault is one of the most under­re­port­ed crimes in soci­ety, pre­sent­ing a chal­lenge to both depart­ments, Kaye Whit­ley said in pre­pared remarks to the House Vet­er­ans’ Affairs Committee’s sub­com­mit­tee on dis­abil­i­ty assis­tance and memo­r­i­al affairs.

Defense Depart­ment stud­ies indi­cate that about eight of 10 sex­u­al assaults in the mil­i­tary go unre­port­ed, Whit­ley not­ed.

“Vic­tims are con­cerned about los­ing their pri­va­cy, fear­ful about being judged, fear­ful of retal­i­a­tion and afraid that peo­ple will view them dif­fer­ent­ly,” she said. “Female and male mil­i­tary vic­tims alike mis­tak­en­ly believe their vic­tim­iza­tion some­how makes them weak and less of a war­rior.

“They wor­ry that their career advance­ment will be dis­rupt­ed and their secu­ri­ty clear­ances revoked,” she added.

To encour­age more vic­tims to come for­ward, Whit­ley said, the depart­ment offers restrict­ed and unre­strict­ed report­ing options. Restrict­ed report­ing enables vic­tims to access med­ical care and advo­ca­cy ser­vices con­fi­den­tial­ly, she explained.

Since the restrict­ed report­ing option was intro­duced in 2005, the depart­ment had received 3,486 restrict­ed reports through the end of fis­cal 2009, Whit­ley said. “We believe that num­ber rep­re­sents 3,486 vic­tims who would not have oth­er­wise come for­ward to access care,” she said. “Restrict­ed report­ing is hav­ing the desired effect.” Whit­ley said she’s encour­aged that reports of sex­u­al assault have been increas­ing by about 10 per­cent annu­al­ly over the past three years. Still, the depart­ment would like see more vic­tims come for­ward to report sex­u­al assault, she added.

She acknowl­edged that the pre­ven­tion of and response to sex­u­al assault are demand­ing under­tak­ings and should­n’t be tack­led alone. She point­ed out the Defense Department’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with oth­er fed­er­al, state and non­prof­it agen­cies to max­i­mize the effec­tive­ness of the department’s pro­gram. One of the department’s key col­lab­o­ra­tions is with the Vet­er­ans Affairs Depart­ment, she not­ed.

This col­lab­o­ra­tion recent­ly has paid off with regard to doc­u­men­ta­tion, Whit­ley said. Offi­cials devel­oped the Vic­tim Pref­er­ence Report­ing Form, called DD 2910, to explain report­ing options and to indi­cate the servicemember’s choice of an unre­strict­ed or con­fi­den­tial report.

VA’s Vet­er­ans Ben­e­fits Admin­is­tra­tion has agreed to accept a copy of this form, she not­ed, signed by both the vic­tim and the sex­u­al assault response coor­di­na­tor or vic­tim advo­cate, as evi­dence of sex­u­al assault. The doc­u­ment can be used as part of the paper­work for a ser­vice-con­nec­tion deter­mi­na­tion, she explained. The goal is to ensure vic­tims have proof of sex­u­al assault, even if the mem­ber nev­er report­ed the inci­dent or made a restrict­ed report and opt­ed not to receive med­ical care, Whit­ley said.

“Just as the DD 214 is the main basis for proof of mil­i­tary ser­vice, we would like the DD 2910 … to be uni­ver­sal­ly accept­ed as proof that a vic­tim made a report of sex­u­al assault,” she said.

The depart­ments also work togeth­er to ensure sex­u­al assault vic­tims are con­nect­ed with appro­pri­ate ser­vices, she said, and a VA rep­re­sen­ta­tive par­tic­i­pates on the Defense Department’s Sex­u­al Assault Advi­so­ry Coun­cil, the main over­sight body for the department’s Sex­u­al Assault Pre­ven­tion and Response pro­gram.

While the depart­ments have made progress, more work remains to be done, Whit­ley acknowl­edged, start­ing with one of the exist­ing bar­ri­ers to col­lab­o­ra­tion: state manda­to­ry report­ing laws.

Ser­vice­mem­bers in a num­ber of states, includ­ing Cal­i­for­nia, who wish to access med­ical care for sex­u­al assault do not have the restrict­ed report­ing option, she explained. California’s Penal Code, for instance, requires health care prac­ti­tion­ers to make a report to law enforce­ment if they sus­pect crimes of a sex­u­al nature have been com­mit­ted. Once they noti­fy civil­ian law enforce­ment, there’s no guar­an­tee that mil­i­tary law enforce­ment won’t be the next step, she said, and they’re oblig­at­ed to inves­ti­gate and noti­fy the com­mand.

“If our active-duty mem­bers could make restrict­ed reports in fed­er­al­ly fund­ed facil­i­ties, such as a VA Med­ical Cen­ter – no mat­ter where it is locat­ed – we believe this would allow us a wider vari­ety of options to offer vic­tims for care,” Whit­ley said. “We do not know how many more reports we would have received had the restrict­ed report­ing option been avail­able in Cal­i­for­nia. This is a chal­lenge we need help in resolv­ing.”

Whit­ley reit­er­at­ed the impor­tance of col­lab­o­ra­tion in com­bat­ing sex­u­al assault.

“Each day, our ser­vice­mem­bers ded­i­cate their lives to pro­tect­ing our coun­try and deserve no less than the very best care and sup­port in return,” she said. “That is why it is so very impor­tant that we work togeth­er to make this pro­gram the best it can be.”

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