5/8/2013 – WASHINGTON (AFNS) — Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A Welsh III presented the service’s fiscal 2014 budget request to the Senate Armed Services Committee May 7, but much of the discussion focused on the recent sexual battery allegations involving Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response branch chief.
“Both Secretary Donley and I were appalled at the deeply troubling sexual battery allegations,” Welsh said. “As we have both said over and over and over again, sexual assault prevention and response efforts are critically important to us. It is unacceptable that this occurs anywhere at any time in our Air Force and we will not quit working this problem.”
Krusinski was removed from his position after being charged with assaulting a woman, May 5, in Arlington, Va.
While the recent allegation has put additional focus on the Air Force’s handling of sexual assaults, Welsh acknowledged that this is a significant issue to everyone, not just Airmen, and the Air Force has an opportunity to take the lead as being the best at preventing sexual assaults and helping victims.
“It’s a big problem for our nation, but we have the ability to lead the pack on this,” Welsh said. “We have the organizational structure–leadership, training, education, disciplinary system and judicial process–that allows us to attack every aspect of this problem. We should be the best in the world at it.”
They highlighted the fact that roughly 20 percent of the young women who come into the Department of Defense and the Air Force report that they were sexually assaulted in some way before they came into the military.
“They come in from a society where this occurs,” he said. “The same demographic group moves into the military. We need to change the way people think when they walk through the door. If we can start to make progress in that area, we can extend it throughout the course of a career.”
Accordingly to Donley, the Air Force is working very hard on the command climate issue, “which is absolutely key…making sure Airmen understand right when they come in the Air Force that they are in a different place than they were in civil society,” the secretary said. “They need to understand our expectations for their behavior and the military culture we expect them to live up to in terms of respect for the contributions and service of individuals in our Air Force.”
During the hearing, the senators did recognize the service’s efforts in establishing the Special Victims’ Counsel program, which provides sexual assault victims with their own military attorney to help navigate the criminal justice system.
The service now has more than 260 victims assigned a Special Victims’ Counsel, but more significant are the statistics the service has seen as a result of the program’s implementation.
“In the past, we had about a 30 percent rate of unrestricted report victims who would decide not to continue with prosecution after they began the process of investigations,” Welsh said. “So far, only two of the 265 represented by SVCs fall into this category, which is a huge improvement. Their participation, which is key in moving forward, allows us to prosecute more cases over time.”
The other statistic is an increase in victims willing to change from a restricted report to an unrestricted report, which has gone from 17 to 55 percent.
“More victims are willing to change to an unrestricted report and allow us to investigate because they are more comfortable having a legal advisor who is with them the entire process,” the general said. “Just those two statistics make me feeling very comfortable this program is moving in the right direction.”
Officials addressed other current and ongoing initiatives, to include working with experts in the fields of prosecution, victim care, psychology, as well as cultural and environmental development.
Despite recent success with the SVC program and these other initiatives, much debate remains in Congress regarding what role commanders and convening authorities should play in the process of prosecuting sexual assault cases. But one thing everyone could agree upon is the fact that much work remains to be done.
“I’m confident the military justice system works well to suspense justice and commanders need to be in this work,” Donley said, emphasizing that the judicial process is just one part of the issue that needs to be addressed. “The sexual assault problem is significant in our military, we cannot ignore it. We have a number of programs and initiatives under way to address it and we need to continue to work it.”
“We have to find a different set of things that may be game changers in battling this problem,” Welsh said. “We’ll continue to do everything in our power to care for Airmen and their families while balancing the resources required to do that with the understanding that our primary job is to fight and win the nation’s wars.”