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DOD implements new sexual-assault prevention policy

WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Defense Department officials here Jan. 4 announced sweeping changes in how the military handles sexual assaults, with uniform policies and procedures that apply to all servicemembers, wherever they are at home station or deployed.

Dr. David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said the changes, laid out in 11 new memorandums sent to Congress and the military services, "will change the way the military handles sexual assault, from the operations arena all the way to culture of the institution, in a profound and lasting way."

The new DOD policy focuses on three major areas: enhanced education and training to help prevent assaults, improved treatment and support for victims, and a better system for investigating and prosecuting offenders.

Dr. Chu said the changes are designed to help build a "climate of confidence" that instills trust in victims that they will get the care they need, while instilling in all servicemembers that "this crime will not be tolerated."

The goal of the new policies is to standardize programs and policies throughout the DOD to improve prevention of sexual assault, enhance victim support and increase accountability, officials said.

Dr. Chu acknowledged that the military's traditional victim-response system did not provide the level of care and support that victims need.

"We are moving aggressively to put new systems in place to address this shortcoming," he said. "The well-being of victims is a priority for us, and we are doing whatever it will take to ensure they get the best possible care."

This support begins with a better system for reporting and investigating sexual assaults that is more sensitive to victims' privacy and confidentiality, Dr. Chu said. Final details of that effort are still being worked out but are expected to be resolved soon, possibly within the week, he said.

DOD's sexual-assault policy will also ensure uniform standards of care, "so no matter where you are or what branch you serve in, you will have the same support systems and the same response personnel available to you," he said. New reporting guidelines and protocols will ensure an appropriate and timely response that Dr. Chu said will treat victims with "the dignity and respect they deserve."

He stressed this will apply to forces wherever they might be deployed on the globe.

"All of these services should be available to everyone, everywhere," he said.

Ensuring that victims get this care will be the job of the newly established sexual-assault response coordinators. Dr. Chu said these officials will serve as a single point of contact to coordinate sexual-assault victim care. Once the concept is fully implemented, the coordinators will be at every military installation around the world, he said.

The new policy calls for consistent sexual assault prevention education and training that begins in basic training and continues throughout the servicemembers' military careers.

The most basic part of the training includes clear-cut definitions of what constitutes sexual harassment, sexual assault and other sexual-related offenses. Dr. Chu said this will help "eliminate confusion and uncertainty about which actions constitute which offense."

Other training will be geared to first responders and commanders on dealing with cases of sexual assault within their ranks.

Brig. Gen. K.C. McClain, commander of Joint Task Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, said the new sexual-assault policy "will make a tremendous difference in the lives of the men and women in our services."

Despite what she called "huge strides," she acknowledged that the new policy is not an "overnight solution." Implementing the new policy in an effective way "will take time," she said.

The joint task force will provide oversight as the services implement the new policy over the next year to ensure programs are consistent, General McClain said.

Once implemented, this cohesive, department-wide program "will ensure that every servicemember has a baseline training to help prevent sexual assaults," she said. "And also, in the event that there is a sexual assault, (it will ensure) that every servicemember will have access to the same standard of care and support, regardless of where (he or she is) assigned."

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