WASHINGTON – Army surveys show Soldiers are more willing now to report they've been the victim of sexual assault, but the service is still not happy with its efforts to eliminate such crimes within the ranks.
"It's hard to capture a single emotion," said Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh, addressing lawmakers May 8 on Capitol Hill. "All of us, we're frustrated, we're angry, but what we aren't is dissuaded from continuing the fight and meeting the challenge. This is so contrary to everything upon which the Army was built.
"To see this kind of activity happening in our ranks is heart wrenching and sickening. We've tried and will continue to try to approach this at virtually every level."
To increase effectiveness in addressing sexual assault, Army leaders are aggressively enforcing the Army's Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention program, while implementing new initiatives announced May 7 by the Department of Defense, said Carolyn Collins, director of the Army's SHARP program.
"The Army's portion of the Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault for fiscal year 2012 shows increasing effectiveness in combating sexual assault," Collins said. "However, we realize there's still more work to be done to combat sexual violence. The Army will continue to work with DoD to ensure Army efforts align with the DoD Strategy and the Secretary of Defense initiatives."
Under-reporting of sexual assault remains a national issue and also is a challenge for the Army. Army surveys, however, show between 2009 and 2012 female Soldier's "propensity to report" having been the victim of sexual assault has increased from 28 percent to 42 percent. That increase means Soldiers are more comfortable with their chain of command and are more willing now to report both the crime traditionally thought of as rape, as well as other examples of unwelcome physical contact of a sexual nature.
While both the Army and the DoD believe the increase is a positive step, the Army is moving ahead on efforts to bolster its SHARP program by embedding more than 800 additional full-time positions across the Army, Collins said.
As part of FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act, Collins said, there was a requirement to man two full-time positions per brigade – to include a victim's advocate and a sexual assault response coordinator.
"We have the manpower requirements to meet current FY12 NDAA legislative requirements and are meeting the requirements with an interim brigade military SARC and VA manning," Collins said. "In FY12, we programmed full-time personnel assets for FY14-18, as we transitioned from a contract-supported program to a government program. Leaning forward in this effort, the vice chief of staff of the Army directed commands to begin hiring in FY13."
There also are full-time "special assault investigators," as part of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, referred to as "CID," to investigate sexual assault crimes, as well as special victims prosecutors who only address sexual assault crimes.
"These assets provide special victim capability support to victims and commanders. They are augmented by highly qualified experts, both in Judge Advocate General and CID, to work on accountability of these crimes," Collins said.
To ensure accurate and timely processing of DNA evidence, she said, the Army has about 32 sexual assault lab examiners in Atlanta. And, in medical treatment facilities, she said, there are sexual assault care coordinators and sexual assault clinical providers, both of which are collateral-duty positions.
Collins said the Army continues to add resources in support of its prevention, advocacy, investigation, accountability and assessment efforts.
The Army does more than just investigate sexual assaults, Collins said. It's also working to stop them before they happen. That involves aggressive training at all levels across the Army, from entry-level Soldiers in basic training, to generals at the highest levels of command, and civilians as well.
"We have about five levels of echelon, coming in from a new recruit or a new officer, or a new employee up to the senior levels of general officer, senior noncommissioned officer, senior civilians," Collins said.
Augmenting that is unit-training, both annual and self-study, she said. Additionally, there is pre- and post-deployment training and orientation training Soldiers receive whenever they join a unit.
"We've done some extensive training across the board to include everything from specialized training for cadre, instructors, in our school houses – and core competencies for our commanders … As well as for our senior enlisted personnel," Collins said.
New core competencies were implemented in March in all leadership courses and pre-command courses. But training, Collins said, is only part of what will ensure the Army can effectively address sexual assaults in the ranks.
"The biggest focus on prevention certainly falls on the shoulders of the commander," she said. "They are our key personnel and are critical to this program. Our commanders and senior enlisted advisers are the center of gravity to creating a culture free of sexual assault."
Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno, who also testified on Capitol Hill with the secretary, told lawmakers he knows that Army efforts from the top can be undermined by a commander who is not entirely on board with Army policies. That is something he is personally getting after.
"We have attacked this at all angles, but we still have lots of work to do," Odierno said. "Institutionally, we can do well. But if you go into a unit, and the climate is not right, it will tear down everything we've tried to train in the institution. So, we are really focused on ensuring that in our operational force, we have the training mechanisms necessary to educate and ensure people understand the importance of this issue. We will continue to work this. We have a long way to go, but I think we are moving forward in the right direction."
To ensure that happens, he said, the Army is going after commanders to ensure they are on board and are creating command climates that let Soldiers know sexual assault is not tolerated.
Efforts to that effect, he said, are aimed at first sergeant and company commander courses on installations. Additionally, both he and Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. John Campbell have engaged every battalion and brigade commander course about sexual assault. That kind of engagement also exists with general officers and the sergeants major academy.
WORKING WITH DOD
During a briefing May 7 at the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel laid out several new strategies for all the military services to follow in their joint fight against sexual assault. Among six specific measures laid out by the secretary were increased accountability for commanders to establish command climates "of dignity and respect, and incorporating SAPR prevention and victim-care principles" within their commands.
The secretary also directed the services to improve overall victim care and to make an assessment of the military justice system's ability to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate crimes of a sexual nature.
Each of the directives the secretary presented had specific dates associated with them, and specific dates requiring reporting to him on progress the services have made in their implementation.
The secretary also presented an updated version of the DoD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Strategic Plan. He said the plans of individual military services should align with the DoD plan, and he required reporting on the progress of that alignment by July 31, 2013.
Collins said the Army stands ready to implement DoD directives to improve efforts to combat sexual assault in the ranks.
She said the Army would meet the DoD requirements "collectively as a team," adding the Army is already moving aggressively to meet the requirements and align with the strategy and initiatives.
"The Army is committed to this effort. This is not a short-term effort, this is a long-term sustained effort, and the Army has put the assets in place and is ensuring those assets are institutionalized and are growing to meet this challenge," she said.
And while she acknowledged that cultural change "takes time," Collins said the Army is on an "aggressive timeline" to affect that change.