The Pentagon is not doing enough to make its sexual assault prevention strategy effective, according to a Congressional watchdog agency.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the Department of Defense (DOD) has failed to: identify risk factors that “promote sexual violence” in the military community and in military leadership; communicate the strategy to military bases to ensure consistency among Armed Services prevention programs; and undertake methods to measure if the strategy is working and whether changes are needed.
The report to Congress notes that sexual assaults reported to the military increased from 2,800 in 2007 to 6,100 in 2014, but adds that they represent “a fraction” of actual incidents. The report cites a 2014 RAND survey, which estimated that 20,300 active-duty service members were sexually assaulted in the prior year. The report concludes that the DOD needs to take actions to better address the problem.
“Sexual assault is a crime that devastates victims and has a far-reaching negative impact for DOD because it undermines DOD’s core values, degrades mission readiness, and raises financial costs,” the report states. The report was submitted to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees on Nov. 4.
The DOD said it concurred with the recommendations and is taking steps to address the findings.
Other findings include:
• Only two of the DOD’s 18 planned prevention activities have been implemented.
• Limited corroboration among the Armed Forces on efforts to prevent sexual assault, in spite of directives from the DOD and Joint Chiefs of Staff to do so.
• Few military members are assigned to sexual assault prevention roles. One military base cited has one victim advocate and one program coordinator to serve 1,200 people.
“The GAO report highlights yet again a lack of accountability by the Pentagon for dealing with the ongoing military sexual assault crisis,” said Retired Col. Don Christensen, president of Protect Our Defenders. “It is especially disturbing that the military continues to ignore leading risk factors for sexual assault.”
Christensen, the former chief prosecutor of the U.S. Air Force, said the rate of sexual assault hasn’t changed since 2010. “If the Pentagon is serious about ensuring the safety and well being of service members, it must develop a conscientious and measurable sexual assault program. The men and women who defend our nation deserve no less.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, called on the DOD to “redouble efforts to prevent sexual assault within the ranks of our military” and correct deficiencies cited in the report. The Second District Democrat said that “our committee will continue to press for action to ensure that the scourge of sexual assault does not undermine trust and cohesion within our military.”
The GAO report states that Pentagon officials believe the increase in reported cases reflects “the growing confidence of service members in the department’s response to victims as opposed to a decrease in the effectiveness of its prevention efforts.”
“According to DOD, sexual assault continues to represent a significant and persistent problem within the department and DOD has considerable interest in better preventing it,” the report continues.
The GAO report concludes that the DOD’s strategy falls short. For example, it states “DOD does not specify risk factors for the two domains over which it potentially has the greatest influence—leaders at all levels of the DOD and the military community.” The strategy fails to recognize that “the inherent nature of certain types of commands or units may cultivate an environment in which there is an increased risk of sexual assault,” the report states.
Since 2004, when a number of military sexual assault cases received attention, the GAO has issued a series of reports on the Pentagon’s prevention efforts. Earlier this year, the GAO issued a report on male victims and recommended that the DOD revise its training on sexual assault prevention to address them. According to the GAO, the DOD is in the process of doing so.