WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 9, 2014) – Army efforts to change command climate and increase training have resulted in a decrease in sexual assaults as well as an increase in reporting of these crimes, a recently released report shows.
“The Army still has the prevention of sexual assault as its number-one priority,” said Dr. Christine T. Altendorf, director of the Army Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, or SHARP, office.
“We have put a lot of focus and effort on this in the last couple of years, and we do believe we are making progress,” Altendorf said. “Do we still have more things to do? Yes. Will we continue to do more things. Yes. But we are making progress.”
The numbers showing progress come from a report exceeding 1,100 pages given to the president this week by the secretary of Defense. The report details the efforts of the military services to curb sexual assault.
According to the Army’s portion of the document, reporting of sexual assault is up, Altendorf said. Additionally, she said, the prevalence of sexual assault is going down. What that means is that now, more Soldiers are willing to report that they have been sexually assaulted, she said, At the same time, anonymous surveys of Soldiers show that fewer sexual assaults have actually occurred.
According to the report — an anonymous prevalence report, administered every two years — the number of sexual assaults against female Soldiers has decreased from 7.1 percent of the force in fiscal year 2012, to 4.6 percent in fiscal year 2014. Sexual assaults against male Soldiers increased slightly, from .8 percent in fiscal year 2012, to 1.2 percent in fiscal year 2014.
At the same time, surveys show that reporting of sexual assaults has gone up. Of the total number of estimated sexual assault victims in fiscal year 2012, only about 14 percent made a report. In fiscal year 2014, that number increased to 23 percent.
A sexual assault involves “offenses ranging from abusive sexual contact to rape,” as spelled out in the report.
“The decline in prevalence combined with the increase in reports, suggests the Army’s efforts to prevent sexual assault and reduce the stigma of reporting are having a positive effect,” the report concludes.
Altendorf said the Army must focus equally now on prevention of sexual assault, not just taking care of victims.
“We don’t want this to happen at all,” she said. “This goes back to really focusing on that climate of dignity and respect and that is what we have to really try to institutionalize if at all possible.”
The DOD report to the president details the Army’s efforts across “lines of effort” to increase reporting of sexual assault, to take care of victims of sexual assault, and to decrease sexual assaults across the force. Five lines of effort include prevention, investigation, accountability, advocacy, and assessment.
For prevention, the Army in 2014 completed a multi-year process to revise all professional military education courses to update and improve their SHARP training. In addition, since 2011, unit-level SHARP training has been required annually and, since 2014, is now complemented by an interactive presentation designed to educate Soldiers about the importance of active bystander intervention.
In 2013, the secretary of the Army also mandated suitability checks for more than 20,000 drill sergeants, recruiters, victim advocates, sexual assault response coordinators, and other “positions of trust” to ensure that only the best-qualified and most suitable individuals serve in these important positions.
The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division has joined with prosecutors, victim witness liaisons, victim advocates, and other sexual assault responders to form “Special Victim Capability” teams at more than 70 Army installations. These teams are trained in the unique aspects of investigating and prosecuting sexual assault cases, including the need to ensure that victims are referred to the appropriate agencies for comprehensive care.
Since 2011, the U.S. Army Military Police School has also developed a number of innovative investigative techniques, including the Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview, which is designed to increase victim cooperation with the accountability process and thereby enhance prosecutions. Finally, to expedite sexual assault cases, the Army has increased its number of DNA analysts by more than 400 percent, since 2011.
The cornerstone of the Army’s accountability effort is the “special victim prosecutor.” Army SVPs are selected for their courtroom expertise and also for their sensitivity to the victims of sexual assault. SVPs complete a specially-designed, intensive training course, and oversee or assist in the prosecution of every sexual assault case in the Army.
In 2011, the Army also began a program of providing victims with “special victims’ counsel.” The SVCs represent the victim throughout the investigation and accountability process, with their primary duty to represent the interests of the victim, even if those interests do not align with those of the government. The Army has now trained nearly 200 SVCs, who together have represented more than 1,200 victims.
Lt. Gen Flora D. Darpino, the Army’s Judge Advocate General, said surveys show that 89 percent of victims said they had a “great experience” with their special victims’ counsel.
In 2014, the chief of staff of the Army directed the development of a centralized SHARP Academy to expand the knowledge and skills of sexual assault response coordinators, victim advocates and program managers. The Army also ensures that victims of sexual assault receive quality medical care.
Since 2012, the U.S. Army Medical Command has trained more than 100 sexual assault medical forensic examiners annually. Reconstituted and improved in 2014, a Sexual Assault Medical Management Office in every military treatment facility optimizes coordination of sexual assault cases and consists of a medical director, a sexual assault care coordinator, a sexual assault clinical provider, the sexual assault behavioral health provider and all sexual assault medical forensic examiners.
Since 2014, U.S. Army Medical Command also provides at least one sexual assault nurse examiner at every military treatment facility with a 24/7 emergency room.
Finally, to assess its efforts, over the last three years the Army has actively collected multiple types of data, ranging from leader-led focus groups to Soldier surveys, about the efficacy of SHARP training. The Army now provides data from the Defense Sexual Assault Incident Database on a monthly basis to commands and installations, enhancing sexual assault response coordinators’ ability to provide comprehensive victim case management, and helping commanders to more thoroughly assess the effectiveness of their response efforts.