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Task force finds improvement in sexual assault response

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, (12/7/09) -- The Defense Department has made progress in improving its response to the needs of sexual assault victims, but needs to do more, a special task force has determined.

The Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services has turned its report over to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates for review.

But while noting progress, the congressionally mandated report also called for the department to do more to address the spectrum of sexual assault prevention and response.

"Our recommendations highlight the need for institutional change to more effectively prevent sexual assault and address related issues," said Louis Iasiello, the task force co-chair. "Doing so is not only ethically and morally correct, but also essential to military readiness – all the more critical at this time."

The first recommendation the task force made regarding the Defense Department's Sexual Awareness Prevention and Response Office was to elevate its oversight to the deputy secretary of defense until the program meets established institutional goals.

Among other recommendations are changing the budgeting process to overcome inconsistent funding among the services, strengthening the policy and oversight functions of the office, and conducting more rigorous oversight of military service training programs.

The task force also recommended that Congress consider some permanent changes, including:

  • Ensuring servicemembers who report they were sexually assaulted are provided the assistance of a nationally certified victim advocate;
  • Ensuring victims understand their rights, including the opportunity to consult with legal counsel, to minimize confusion during the investigation process;
  • Improving medical care for victims of sexual assault, particularly in deployed areas;
  • Ensuring gender-appropriate care for male victims; and
  • Informing victims and servicemembers of disciplinary actions related to sexual assault.

All of the task force's suggestions were based on the assessment of data collected from 60 sites around the world over 15 months. The task force spoke to more than 3,500 people, including active-duty and reserve-component victims of sexual assault and other military personnel.

The task force members also spoke to general court-martial convening authorities, legal and investigative officials, senior policy officials, sexual assault response coordinators and victim advocates.

Gates has 90 days to review and comment on the report before submitting it to Congress.

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