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Chiefs issue strategic direction to combat sexual assault

  • Published
  • By Jim Garamone
  • American Forces Press Service
Despite years of concerted effort, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commandant of the Coast Guard are dissatisfied with progress made in reducing sexual assault in the military, and have released strategic direction to increase the emphasis on combatting the crime.

The chiefs released a "32-star" letter to commanders and leaders, titled "Strategic Direction to the Joint Force on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response." In the past two years, service members have reported 6,350 cases of sexual assault.

In what is mandatory reading for all commanders and leaders, the letter says the mission is to reduce and ultimately eliminate incidences of sexual assault, and establish an environment of mutual respect and trust, and a work place where the act is not tolerated.

Sexual assault is a crime that erodes the bonds of trust essential for military units to succeed and puts all members of the military team at risk. The chiefs stressed that prevention and response must be emphasized in all aspects of planning, training and mission execution -- requiring actual leadership, not just a "checking-the-box" mentality.

The chiefs have been working diligently for months on the strategic direction, officials said.

"Sexual assaults endanger our own, violate our professional culture and core values, erode readiness and team cohesion and violate the sacred trust and faith of those who serve and whom we serve," the document's introduction says.

"As military professionals we must fully understand the destructive nature of these acts, lead our focused efforts to prevent them, and promote positive command climates and environments that reinforce mutual respect, trust and confidence," the letter reads.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld, the vice chairman; Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff; Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, chief of naval operations; Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, Air Force chief of staff; Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau and Adm. Robert Papp Jr., commandant of the Coast Guard, signed the letter.

Officials said they wrote the guidance to synchronize efforts to combat sexual assault.

"Commanders and leaders must personally read, understand and implement this strategy, the chiefs wrote. "We are fully committed to supporting your efforts to put this strategic direction into action and operationalize [sexual assault prevention and response] within your commands across the joint force."

Evidence clearly shows gaps remain between the precepts of the Defense Department Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program and full implementation at all levels of command. The strategic direction calls on commanders to close these gaps, "by exercising the full measure of their authorities, options and resources."

The direction looks to "imbue a culture and cultivate a climate and environment that is resilient to the risks and vulnerabilities associated with sexual assault," the document says.

Service members need to understand that sexual assault is a crime under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. Four distinct offenses -- rape, sexual assault, aggravated sexual contact and abusive sexual contact -- are contained in Article 120. These and two other offenses -- forcible sodomy and attempts to commit these offenses - are sexual assault crimes within DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program.

Commanders need to work with military lawyers to understand the legal ramifications of these crimes, the chiefs wrote, and need to communicate them to members of their units.

The letter emphasizes that prevention always is better than prosecution. "Commanders must train service members to ensure they understand, for example, that consumption of alcohol can impair the judgment of both parties and the consequences of an alcohol-related sex crime can have a significant and long-lasting impact on the victim, offender, unit cohesion and ultimately the readiness of the joint force," the chiefs wrote.

The chiefs look to instill this call to action at all levels of professional military education, from recruits entering the service to general and flag officers, officials said.

The chiefs set out five lines of effort: prevention, investigation, accountability, advocacy and assessment. The lines of effort will be governed by overarching tenets - leadership, communication, culture, integration and resourcing - that will guide how the lines of effort will be implemented.

Sexual assault in the military is a problem that all service members must face, the chiefs said. The top uniformed leaders have set goals for themselves, too, and spelled out their tasks in the strategic direction.

The chiefs will engage commanders, leaders and service communities worldwide to promote the health and discipline of the force. They will work with the combatant commanders to identify additional requirements that may be needed and examine how to improve sexual assault prevention in forward-deployed locations.

Also, the chiefs will work closely with the Office of the Secretary of Defense to resource the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program and will establish a quarterly executive council "dedicated to a candid and enduring dialogue designed to assess the effectiveness of operationalizing [Sexual Assault Prevention and Response] into commands across the joint force."

The complete report is available at