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Sexual assault in the military

New commission taking hard look

Lynn Rosenthal, lead in the DOD’s Independent Review Commission on sexual assault and harassment, and Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby deliver a briefing to the press at the Pentagon, March 24, 2021. Photo by Navy PO1 Carlos M. Vazquez II, DOD.

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At this moment, sexual assault is the most prevalent crime in the United States.

"But the thing is," wrote Jenifer Kuadli in an article entitled "32 Shocking Sexual Assault Statistics for 2021", "sexual assault statistics reflect that many crimes are still not fully addressed or understood."

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III understands, and on Feb. 26 he announced the creation of a 90-day Independent Review Commission (IRC) which on March 25 began a review of sexual violence in the military.

"Sexual assault and harassment remain persistent and corrosive problems across the total force," said Austin.

The IRC's charter allows commission members to zero in on military policies and to review and assess best practices from the civilian sector.

"I expect every member of our total force to be part of the solution and leaders - both civilian and military - across the Department to take direct accountability to drive meaningful change."

Former White House adviser on violence against women Lynn Rosenthal leads the commission.

"I don't expect an in-the-weeds view of 150 policies that should be tweaked around the edges. That is not what we are about," she said during a Pentagon press briefing.

"I think what we'll be asking: what hasn't been tried, what happens in civilian society that is a best practice that we could try on the military side, and then what are the unique attributes of the military environment that (allow) us to do things that we can't do on the civilian side."

According to Protect Our Defenders, in fiscal year 2018, over 20,500 service members were sexually assaulted or raped. This represented a jump of almost 40 percent from fiscal year 2016.

Four IRC working groups of three commissioners each will focus on four areas during the review: accountability, prevention, climate and culture, and victim care and support.

Each group will be led by highly knowledgeable subject matter experts who will collaborate with colleagues both within and outside of the military.

The accountability group will examine the role of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in confronting sexual assault and harassment, the survivor's likelihood of reporting, and how to bring alleged perpetrators to justice.

Local experts hope to see change.

"Victims of sexual assault at the hands of service members have no way to hold their perpetrator to account," said Tacoma lawyer Darrell Cochran. Cochran is well known for successes representing victims in court ( "The military justice system is not enough. It does not protect sexual assault victims and this is why we know incidences are grossly underreported."

The prevention group will take a look at the services' prevention efforts, and it will identify needed additional resources.

In reviewing the area of climate and culture, this group will reexamine existing support policies and propose new approaches to ensure that all service members feel safe in reporting sexual assault and using existing services.

Last, the three commissioners working on the issue of victim care and support will explore both clinical and non-clinical victim services to ensure complete care to all victims.

The IRC's recommendations will then be forwarded to Lloyd and President Biden.

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