With the signing of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, changes will affect how the military handles cases of military sexual trauma. While 2013 saw a number of stories that blew the lid off of the ongoing sexual assault crisis within the military, the problem is nothing new and even though these changes are good news, more still needs to be done according to experts and defense department brass.
Officials are cautious about what the data means. They don’t believe that the number of assaults are increasing, but rather that the number of reports has increased, based on surveys, focus groups, and interviews with service members.
This indicates that the system is working better and that victims of military sexual trauma (MST) are feeling more secure in reporting incidence when they occur, says the pentagon.
“Given the multiple data points, we assess that this is more reporting,” said Col. Alan R. Metzler, deputy director of the defense department’s sexual assault prevention and response office.
In the past, service members were met with multiple obstacles to overcome in order to get justice, including a culture in the military that was not conducive to reporting sexual assault. Initial reports were being ignored by chains of command and victims feared retaliation for reporting the assault.
“Eliminating sexual assault in the military is one of the Department of Defense’s highest priorities,” said Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in a December 20 statement.
“We will work to build upon the significant progress we’ve made this past year. In April, I called on Congress to amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and I’m pleased that this and other measures we recommended have been included in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). They provide much-needed authorities that will help strengthen our sexual assault prevention and response efforts, and we are committed to implementing them effectively and without delay.”
The signing of the 2014 NDAA will make several changes to the way that the military handles cases of sexual trauma going forward:
- Command discretion on court martial findings has been eliminated. The convening authority is NOT REQUIRED to take action based upon court martial findings, but any action that is taken can’t be overturned later.
- If charges of sexual assault are dropped, or if authorities decline to prosecute, a written explanation will be required. It will be investigated by a civilian authority and become part of the permanent record.
- The statute of limitations has been removed.
- A service member will face mandatory dishonorable discharge or dismissal if found guilty of the most serious MST offenses.
- Additional changes include allowing someone accused of MST, pending an investigation, to be transferred to another command, additional training mandates, legal assistance for victims and a complete review of policies and procedures currently in place regarding MST.
Under the NDAA, the Inspector General has been ordered to review all cases in which a member was separated after making an unrestricted claim of sexual assault. Within 180 days the Inspector General is then required to report their findings to Congress along with any recommendations to rectify the situation.
Eliminating sexual assault in the military is one of the Department of Defense's highest prioritiesChuck Hagel, U.S. Secretary of Defense
The defense department also named a new director of the defense department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office in mid December. Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Snow will take over as the new director in January 2014. The position is currently held by Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton, who is retiring in the spring.
Despite all these changes, the number of sexual assaults remains unchanged, making it clear that more needs to be done.
“We’re still not where we want things to be,” Metzler told the AP. “But we think all of this is having an effect.”
Unfortunately, sexual assault will never be completely eradicated within the ranks, but as many experts have pointed out, the numbers won’t go down until the DoD stops treating sexual assault as an alcohol-induced social faux pas. There is no amount of death-by-powerpoint that is going to stop a predator from being a predator.
Hagel said in his December 20 statement:
“As I and all the leaders of this institution have said, sexual assault is a stain on the honor of millions of military men and women, a threat to the discipline and the cohesion of our force, and we will not allow this to stand. This is not who the men and women who serve this country are.”
Honor and discipline have always been core values to the armed forces. Only time will tell if these changes will help restore that honor so tarnished by this epidemic.