WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2014 – The Defense Department’s aggressive efforts to prevent sexual assault in the military are having an impact, but there’s much more work to be done, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Pentagon reporters today.
“We believe that our efforts to prevent sexual assault are beginning to have an impact,” he said. “Compared to 2012, the DoD-wide survey we are releasing today shows that the prevalence of sexual assault in the military over the past year has decreased by about 25 percent,” Hagel said in announcing the findings from the department’s comprehensive report on sexual assault and the actions it is taking to prevent it.
Eradicating Sexual Assault in the Military
“Sexual assault threatens the lives and well-being of both the women and the men who serve our country in uniform,” Hagel said. “It destroys the bonds of trust and confidence which is at the heart of our military.”
“Eradicating sexual assault from our ranks is not only essential to the long-term health and readiness of the force,” Hagel said, “it is also about honoring our highest commitments to protect our fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.”
Aggressive Actions Taken
The defense secretary said stopping sexual assault has been one of his highest priorities, and over the past 18 months the department has taken aggressive action.
“I’ve directed over 28 new initiatives over the last year to strengthen how we prevent and respond to sexual assault in the military,” Hagel said.
This includes, he said, how the military supports the survivors of this “despicable” crime, how it screens, educates and trains its people, and how the military holds accountable not only offenders, but also the department as an institution, and all of its leaders.
“We recommended significant military justice systems reforms that have since been codified into law,” Hagel said, “with the help of Congress, with the help of the White House, and outside groups that have given us much counsel on this and support and help.”
The defense secretary said victims’ rights and privacy have been improved, and they now have a voice in the military justice process through the implementation of a “groundbreaking” special victims’ council program across DoD.
DoD Efforts Having an Impact
Hagel said most service members highly rated their commander’s efforts to promote a healthy climate of dignity and respect and discourage inappropriate behavior.
“Nearly 90 percent reported taking action to prevent an assault when they saw the risk of one occurring,” he said. Hagel said he also believes that survivors are becoming more confident in the military’s response to sexual assault. Compared to 2010, he said, more survivors have participated in the justice system than ever before, and the military has been able to hold more perpetrators accountable.
“We now have over 1,000 full-time certified response coordinators and victim advocates and over 17,000 volunteer personnel ready to assist survivors,” Hagel said.
Rise in Reporting of Sexual Assaults
Following last year’s “unprecedented” 50 percent increase in reporting, Hagel said, the rate has continued to go up which is “actually good news.”
“Two years ago, we estimated about one in 10 sexual assaults were being reported,” he said. “Today, it’s one in four.”
However, Hagel said, these crimes are still heavily underreported, both nationally and in the military, so the military must maintain its focus throughout the ranks and continue to earn the confidence of survivors.
That confidence, he said, will be earned by reducing retaliation against people who report the crime.
Stopping Retaliation for Reporting
“This is a challenge we are very aware of and have been addressing,” Hagel said. “We now have better data to help us to keep working to be more effective in stopping this retaliation.”
With over 60 percent of women who reported sexual assault in 2014 experiencing some perceived kind of retaliation — often in the form of social retaliation by co-workers or peers — Hagel said the department must “tackle this difficult problem head-on.”
“When someone reports a sexual assault,” he said, “they need to be embraced and helped, not ostracized or punished with retribution.”
Four New Directives
Hagel said he issued four new directives to help close the gaps and build on what has already done.
New procedures are being developed, he said, to engage commanders to prevent professional and social retaliation, and the department is undertaking a wide-ranging study of prevention efforts at military installations.
Additionally, Hagel said there will be revamped training for junior officers as well as enlisted and civilian supervisors so that they are better prepared to both prevent and respond to sexual assault within their units and also to reduce the potential for retaliation.
“While these initiatives will take time to have an impact,” he said, “they are critical for lasting change.”
Gathering Statistical Data
Hagel said the report, organized and directed by the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office and supported by the Defense Manpower Data Center, used feedback and recommendations from service members.
The review, he said, employed both qualitative and quantitative measures, which the department used to “evaluate our progress here.”
“We asked the RAND Corporation to independently administer a department-wide survey,” Hagel said, “which was the largest ever of its kind.”
“It received over 145,000 voluntary responses, which is the highest response rate we’ve ever seen,” he said.
Hagel also noted that “for the first time ever,” the department talked to survivors of sexual assault in the military to learn where they have seen progress and areas that needed improvement.
“Overall,” he said, “the data shows that while there have been indications of real progress, measurable progress over the last two years, with improvement in 10 of the 12 specific measures, including reduced prevalence and increased reporting, we still have a long way to go.”
More Progress to be Made
In addition to fighting “cultural stigmas” which discourage men from reporting, Hagel said he is also concerned with the “increasing” use of social media for sexual harassment.
“If you want to wear the uniform, understanding our core values is not enough,” he said. “On-duty or off-duty, we must live these ideals and enforce our values every day.”