Sexual assault awareness 'begins at top'

  • Published
  • By Terri Moon Cronk
  • American Forces Press Service
To combat and put an end to sexual assault in the military, the Defense Department has designed programs to boost victim medical care, increase assault reporting and hold offenders accountable for their crimes, the director of the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office said here April 5.

Responding to questions as a member of a panel discussing the 2012 movie "The Invisible War" as part of the End Violence Against Women international conference, Army Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton discussed DOD's no-tolerance policy on sexual assault for an audience that included first responders, prosecutors and criminal investigation department agents.

Charged with positioning the military to "win the war on sexual assault," Patton said he believes that sexual assault cannot be conquered until it is a more visible issue. "The Invisible War" helped with that awareness, he added.

Sexual assaults are terrible crimes that have a "lasting, scary, traumatic effect" on victims, the general said.

The Defense Department works worldwide to prevent and respond to sexual assault, using "five lines of effort," Patton said: prevention, accountability, investigation, victim advocacy and assessment.

Prevention begins with training commanders in best practices and working that effort down to the lowest level, Patton said. Each service branch, he said, has such a program in place.

The interactive training includes scenario-based discussions led by professionals, and also features victim testimony and other issues that "underscore the emphasis and the importance this training has to prevent sexual assault," the general said.

Accountability's aim is to hold sexual offenders appropriately accountable in the military justice system, and to encourage victims to report the crime, Patton said,

Investigation into sexual assault is performed separately from the chain of command via a policy to obtain optimum results, he said.

"We're creating a special victims capability for each of the services," Patton explained, "and will deliver a distinct group of specially trained professionals such as victim witness liaisons, paralegals, and so forth, all united under our common policy framework of standardized training ... to come together and work these important aspects."

Victim advocacy is a way to standardize and offer reporting options to victims, to motivate reporting and enable greater accountability for offenders, Patton said, noting that military sexual assault victims who want to change their units have had a 99 percent success rate.

Assessment includes surveys and reviews for commanders to see how their program is doing in a meaningful and accurate way, from victim intervention to medical care, Patton said.

The general said the Defense Department's efforts to curb sexual assaults will enable culture change. "I believe we can turn this around," he said. "The [department] is firmly committed to changing the culture."

Panelist Russell Strand, chief of family advocacy law enforcement training for the Army Military Police School at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., also weighed in on the importance of culture change.

"I've never seen a culture change [happen] so fast, so well and so immediately in the military," said Strand, a former service member. He added that sexual assault is taken seriously in the military.

"We will do whatever it takes to minimize, and eventually eradicate, this scourge upon our military," Strand said.

"We have best military in the world, [and] we have a lot of things we do well and some we don't do so well," he added. "There are hundreds of thousands of people in the military who take this issue as seriously as we do. When we hear or see a story, it breaks our heart, collectively and individually."

Patton said DOD's efforts to combat sexual assault are far-reaching.

"We intend to make the U.S. military a national leader in sexual assault prevention and response," he added.