Pentagon officials are calling for sweeping changes in the handling of military sexual-assault crimes, acknowledging that commanders have handled cases poorly and that no uniform guidelines exist to safeguard military victims, reports the Denver Post. A Pentagon task force made few concrete proposals for reform, instead recommending military officials convene more panels and advisers for additional study. The report followed three months of research.
A list of nine proposals was included in a report released last night by a task force based on an investigation ordered by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in February. Officials proposed creating a new office within the secretary’s office to advise Rumsfeld on sexual-assault issues. Leaders also suggest creating “sexual-assault response teams” to better protect victims. Such teams would include victim advocates, who would provide legal and safety assistance to women.
Ellen Embrey, who headed up the eight-member task force, also called for better training for commanders. “We found that commanders, although concerned, were not educated or trained or sensitive to the needs of sexual-assault victims,” Embrey said. “They need better tools, guidelines and training.”
Rumsfeld formed the investigative panel after The Denver Post reported that dozens of female troops were returning from the war zone seeking counseling at civilian crisis centers, saying they were assaulted by fellow soldiers. More than 100 soldiers reported assaults, complaining of flawed investigations, shoddy medical treatment, and leniency for the accused attackers.
Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said the findings fell short of substantive reforms. “This document is just the most recent in a long line of reports from the Pentagon acknowledging the problem of sexual assault in the military and recognizing that procedures to deal with it are inconsistent and inadequate,” she said. “What we need now are real action and real reforms.”
In a Pentagon briefing, Embrey, accompanied by Undersecretary David Chu, said the military’s sexual-assault problems were no worse than those in the civilian world.