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Upcoming summit shapes new sexual-assault policies

WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Decisions made at a senior-leader summit are expected to have a sweeping effect on the Defense Department's sexual-assault prevention and response efforts, said the task force commander charged with turning the group's recommendations into DOD-wide policies.

The Oct. 6 summit, made up of senior military, civilian leaders and outside experts on sexual assault, will provide a clear definition of what constitutes sexual assault, Brig. Gen. K.C. McClain said Oct. 1.

This will help clear up disagreements and misunderstandings about what behaviors constitute sexual assault -- an important starting point in educating the force and preventing sexual assaults, she said.

"Our primary challenge in preventing sexual assault is educating everyone as to what sexual assault is," said General McClain, commander of DOD's new Joint Task Force for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response.

And, if the mantra for real estate is "location, location, location," then in sexual-assault prevention, it is "education, education, education," General McClain said.

"It is imperative that everyone from the unit commander to the most junior member of an organization understand that they have a role in preventing sexual assaults, in responding to sexual assaults and in supporting the victim's recovery," she said.

Summit participants also will address the challenge of protecting victims' privacy while allowing commanders to maintain good order and discipline and hold offenders accountable, General McClain said.

Specifically, the group will consider how to maintain a victim's confidentiality in reporting what General McClain called "one of the most under-reported crimes." It will also look at ways to make the military's response to sexual-assault cases more transparent to victims and the general public, within the bounds of the Privacy Act.

It also will focus on ways to standardize DOD policies and programs dealing with sexual assault and will examine unique challenges involving deployed troops.

These challenges include close-living environments, operational and environmental stresses, and the lack of some support resources available at home stations, General McClain said.

The upcoming summit follows a weeklong internal working conference in which more than 150 participants studied issues laid out by the Task Force on Care for Victims of Sexual Assaults. That task force was formed by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in mid-February in response to reports of alleged sexual assaults in Kuwait and Iraq. It called for a senior summit to develop a plan for DOD-wide policies and programs to address the problem.

Among that task force's recommendations was that DOD officials establish a single office to develop standardized DOD-wide policies regarding sexual assault and to help the services and combatant commanders put them in place. The new Joint Task Force for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response is expected to be fully "stood up" by late October.

The office will take summit results and work with the services to implement the policies, General McClain said.

General McClain said the Defense Department faces hurdles in confronting sexual assault, a problem not only in the military but also in the civilian community.

But she said DOD leaders have demonstrated their commitment to take on the challenge and reduce sexual assaults within the military.

"Our ultimate goal is to prevent sexual assaults," General McClain said, "and, failing that, when there is a sexual assault, it's to ensure that the victim is adequately cared for and supported."

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