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Congress Told That DOD Data on Sexual Assault and Rape in Military Is 'Lacking in Accuracy, Reliability and Validity'

Ann Wright

A
Department of Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military told
a Congressional committee on February 3, 2010 that "DoD's procedures
for collecting and documenting data about military sexual assault
incidents are lacking in accuracy, reliability, and validity."  

Task Force a low priority--three years to name members of the Task Force

In
what many see as the reality of the military institution investigating
itself on the criminal acts of sexual assault and rape committed by its
own personnel, the naming of Task Force members and the work of the
Task Force was delayed for three years.  Following a
congressional request, in October, 2005, Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary
of Defense authorized the DOD Task Force on Sexual Assault in the
Military, but DOD took three years to name the Task Force and for the
Task Force to have its initial meeting in August, 2008.

Military Personnel Subcommittee Chair Susan Davis in her opening statement at the hearing noted this three year delay: "Not to make a major issue here,
but I do feel that it is important to note for the record that, due to
a variety of factors that could have been dealt with more quickly by
the Department of Defense and were certainly beyond the control of the
witnesses before us today, the Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in
the Military Services did not actually begin their work until August of
2008."

Why
not make this delay a major issue when the purposeful delay undercut
the oversight that Congress itself was demanding and most importantly,
when during these three years 6,000 service women and men were sexually
assaulted and raped?

In fact another Congressional subcommittee did make this delay an issue.  In
July, 2008, the Representative John Tierney, chair of the House
Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs of the Committee
on Oversight and Governmental Reform, dismissed from the hearing DOD's
Principal Deputy Undersecretary of defense Michael Dominguez from the
hearing when Dominguez acknowledged that he had ordered Dr. Kaye
Whitley, chief of the DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office
(SAPRO) not to honor the subpoena the committee had issued to Dr.
Whitely to testify in the hearing. The subcommittee was poised to ask
her why the Department of Defense had taken three years to name the 15
person task force and why the SAPRO program was failing to require key
information from the military services in order to evaluate the
effectiveness of the sexual assault prevention and response programs.  (http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20080801_sexual_assault_in_the_military_a_dod_cover_up/)

 Once
the Task Force began meeting in 2008, over the next 15 months, members
of the Task Force talked with over 3,500 service members in 60 U.S.
military locations throughout the world. Its 179 page report on sexual
assault in the military was made public in December, 2009 (http://www.dtic.mil/dtfsams/docs/11_09docs/DTFSAMS-Rept_Dec09.pdf).

It
must be a challenge for a Task Force composed a retired Admiral, a
former advisor to the Under Secretary of Defense and 4 active duty
military service members appointed by the Secretary of Defense to be
critical of policies of the Defense Department. The four civilians on
the Task Force would be most likely to be more critical.

One
can see the difficulty in bringing out critical information on sexual
assault and rape in the military in how the information from the Task
Force's report has been made public. 

Take
for example, the testimony itself of the Task Force co-chairs to the
Subcommittee on Military Personnel of the House of Representatives
Armed Services Committee.  It is only in the last
paragraphs of page 8 before you can find what key problems are
concerning sexual assault and rape in the military.

DoD data on military sexual assault incidents are lacking in accuracy, reliability, and validity

Why wait to the last page of testimony before the co-chairs of the Task Force (http://armedservices.house.gov/pdfs/MP020310/IasielloDunbar_Testimony020310.pdf ) state that "DoD's procedures for collecting and documenting data about military sexual assault incidents are lacking in accuracy, reliability, and validity?" 

It
seems reasonable that the Congress, the public and, in particular, the
members of the military, should be informed first-thing in the
testimony that the information provided by DOD has not been accurate,
reliable or valid!  But, unfortunately, the Task Force did
not elaborate on how inaccurate, unreliable or invalid DOD's
information is or how they arrived at that conclusion.

We
all know that as the testimony says "Accurate and comprehensive data is
essential to achieving accountability for responders and those who are
accused of criminal activities. Without meaningful data, trend analysis
and efforts to effectively address issues become problematic."

According
to the Task Force's December, 2009 report (page 77), DOD's procedures
for collecting and documenting data about military sexual assault
incidents lack "accuracy, reliability, and validity." The report states
that the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) expends
much effort

compiling
DOD's annual report to Congress, but this report "falls short in
measuring the underlying incidence of sexual assault. Specifically,
SAPRO has not established a database or the necessary tools to
accurately track the incidence, investigation, and prosecution of
sexual assaults in the Armed Forces. The absence of this database and
associated tracking tools precludes the ability of DOD and the Military
Services to gain an accurate understanding of the pervasiveness and
nature of military sexual assaults and impact on military readiness."

Is it inaccuracy in terminology alone, or in numbers of incidents reported, action taken, and types of punishment?  We don't know, but these would be questions for the Congress to ask. Where is the accountability?

How and why would someone combine offender and victim data?

The
Task Force co-chairs in their testimony remarkably acknowledged that
the most recent DoD report to Congress itself was wrong as it "combined
offender and victim data." That must be a story in itself, how two very
different sets of data could/would be mixed together and no one spot
the mistake before the report was submitted to Congress! 

What are the implications of the mixing of the data, one would like to ask?  Who would have made such a mistake?  Was it a mistake?

Neither victims nor other military personnel informed of the results of possible disciplinary actions

The
Task Force leaders told the Congress that "neither victims nor other
military personnel were routinely informed of the results of
disciplinary actions relating to sexual assault." The Task Force stated
that "Commanders generally did not communicate case results to members
of their command, and that this lack of information often led to
misperceptions, rumors, and assumptions that allegations were
unfounded."

 I
have heard from several women survivors of sexual assault that they
were the last to find out that the perpetrator of the assault had
gotten off scot-free with no punishment and they, the victim, became
the focus of unit members' snide remarks and comments.

Additionally,
the Task Force recommended that "both victims and other military
personnel within the affected command be informed of the disciplinary
action results related to sexual assault." 

Why
does it take a recommendation of a task force to remind/force persons
entrusted with command to simply notify victims of the sexual assault
of the disciplinary action taken? 

Perhaps
it is that in all too many cases, no disciplinary action was taken at
all. Perhaps it is because no one in the higher chain of command was/is
holding commanders responsible for punishing these types of criminal
acts committed.

Leaders need to model correct behavior

A
clue at what the Task Force is driving at comes from a statement
earlier in the testimony about the importance of unit leadership.
"Leadership clearly has a profound influence on the prevention of
sexual assault, from strategy development and execution, to continued
focus and open discussion of the issue. Commanders and leaders must
take an active role in addressing the issue and modeling correct behavior."

The report (http://www.dtic.mil/dtfsams/docs/11_09docs/DTFSAMS-Rept_Dec09.pdf)
itself notes: "Given commanders' responsibility to actively ensure
proper support and discipline of those under their charge, the
restricted reporting option for military sexual assault victims
presents a challenge to some commanders. This reporting option requires
commanders to respect the protections offered to victims
to ensure confidentiality and support. Confidentiality runs counter to
commanders' traditional expectations of accountability. Focus on
accountability and discipline - important attributes of the chain of
command - may prevent some military personnel from reporting sexual
assault. This is particularly an issue when sexual assault victims may
have engaged in misconduct for which they could be disciplined, such as
underage drinking, fraternization, or adultery." (p.37)

Military Lawyers say sexual misconduct regulations are "cumbersome and confusing"

The
Task Force leaders commented that military lawyers consistently advised
the Task Force that the new Article 120 of the Uniformed Code of
Military Justice, the article that addresses sexual misconduct, is
"cumbersome and confusing."  Based upon the consistency of this feedback, the Task Force recommended a review of the effectiveness of Article 120.

If
the military lawyers are having difficulty figuring out the
regulations, no wonder so few persons are prosecuted for these crimes.

After 60 years of sexual assault and rape, still no measurable indices

The
Task Force testimony says there is no research on "meaningful incidence
metrics" on which to identify effective prevention strategies and
initiatives.

After
60 years of women being in the military and with cases of sexual
assault and rape increasing by the decade, one would have hoped that in
all the studies (dozens of them) conducted,  that the
Department of Defense, that can figure out "metrics" on every other
subject, to include all other types of criminal acts, would have made
it a priority to develop the "metrics" on these criminal acts affecting
members of its population.

 The Task Force website lists 20 reports on sexual assault since 1988 (http://www.dtic.mil/dtfsams/research.html) and there were many more reports prior to that date.  But,
if comments of the Task Force are accurate, I guess data collection on
sexual assault and rape has been too difficult, or more likely, too
unimportant for men who are at the top echelons of the military
establishment.

Military system stacked against the victim

Effectiveness between victim and victim advocates in the military limited as no communications privilege under military law

The
Task Force stated that communications between sexual assault victims
and victim advocates were "problematic" because these communications
are afforded no privilege under military law.  Therefore, the effectiveness of victim advocates in the military is limited.

The
Task Force reminds us that in civilian communities, medical personnel
can provide privileged advice and counsel to victims, but this is not
the case for military medical providers.  While a victim
advocate may be available, the advocate must advise the victim that,
should he or she decide to pursue an unrestricted report of the
assault, all communications between the advocate and the victim are
discoverable by the alleged assailant's attorney.

As
it stands now, the only legal source of confidential advice for a
victim from the military community is a lawyer or a chaplain, but many
victims are reluctant to seek help from a chaplain about a sexual
matter. 

In
contrast, in the civilian world, 35 states have granted effective
privilege to communications between victims and victim advocates.

The
Task Force recommends that Congress enact into the Uniformed Code of
Military Justice, a comprehensive military justice privilege for
communications between military victims of sexual assault and victim
advocates.

Victims don't know their rights and are dissatisfied with treatment in investigative process

The
Task Force found that sexual assault victims are frequently
dissatisfied with their treatment during the investigative process,
often because they participate in this process without fully
understanding their rights and the limitations of their rights.

The
Task Force recommends that victims of sexual assault be immediately
made aware of their rights including the opportunity to consult with
legal counsel during the investigative process.

Perhaps
a headline in military newspapers and in military recruiting stations
and basic training facilities "If you are raped, ask for a lawyer"
might be an effective way of communicating this information!

No certification required for DOD victim advocates

While
many victim advocates volunteer for the duty, others are appointed as
an extra duty by the unit commanders and have very little interest or
compassion for the victims.  DOD has never required formal certification for its victim advocates. 

The
Task Force recommends that DOD require response personnel and victims
advocates receive more specialized training on sexual assault response
and also service members who report they were sexually assaulted be
afforded the assistance of a nationally certified victim advocate.

Rape of men in the military

The
social pressure within military units against reporting sexual assault
and rape is extremely intense, and particularly for male soldiers.

The Task Force acknowledges that sexual assault of men in the military is under reported (p. 34).   In Congressional testimony in the summer of 2008, Lt. Gen. Rochelle,
the Army chief of personnel, reported the little known statistic that
12 percent (approximately 260) of reported 2200 rapes in the military
in 2007 were reported by military men victims.

Interestingly,
the lead story of rape chronicled in the Task Force report was not the
rape of a woman soldier, but the rape of a male soldier.  Private
First Class Cody Openshaw was raped by a non-commissioned officer in
charge of the medical holding unit where Openshaw was assigned to
recover from injuries following a parachute accident.  Openshaw was threatened by the NCO and never reported the rape.  Five
years later he finally acknowledged the rape and sought assistance
because of his nightmares, excessive drinking and his increasing
isolation. He ended up committing suicide.

The
Task Force recommends establishment of gender-specific medical care
protocols for victims of sexual assault to provide immediate treatment
to victims for their injuries; to provide screening and treatment for
sexually transmitted diseases; and to provide a forensic examination to
assist law enforcement efforts.

"Sexual assault within the ranks is antithetical to the trust and camaraderie that defines military culture"

Military
Personnel Subcommittee chair Susan Davis ended her opening statement at
the February 3, 2010 hearing with "Sexual assault within the ranks is
antithetical to the trust and camaraderie that defines military
culture. Any sexual assault undermines the moral foundation of our
Armed Forces and does irreparable harm to unit cohesion. Hopefully
today's hearing will help us chart a legislative course to make
progress in our goal to eliminate sexual assaults in the military."

 

It's a crisis when legislation is needed to make progress to eliminate sexual assaults in the military

Congresswoman
Davis' comment that the elimination of sexual assaults and rape in the
military needs a "legislative course" reflects the key, under-lying
problem women and men victims are facing-unresponsive leadership of
both commissioned and non-commissioned officers, who provide the
foundation of the military's culture. 

As
citizens, we should recognize that there is a crisis in our military
when the Congress feels it must step in with legislative fixes to try
to stop these criminal acts when military leadership refuses to take
appropriate steps on its own.

 


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Ann Wright

Ann Wright

Ann Wright is a 29 year US Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in March 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.  She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia.  In December 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.  She is the co-author of the book "Dissent: Voices of Conscience."

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