Amid Pentagon Cuts, War on Assaults Intensified

None

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 23: U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA) speaks to members of the press during a news conference May 23, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The legislator will introduce a bipartisan, bicameral bill 'to combat sexual assaults in the military by holding perpetrators accountable and better protecting survivors.' (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
Jan. 23, 2014, 2:47 p.m.

Dur­ing the ap­pro­pri­ations pro­cess for this year’s budget, Con­gress made clear to the De­part­ment of De­fense that it needs to cut back, trim­ming the Pentagon’s fund­ing re­quest more than any oth­er fed­er­al agency.

But with the back­ing of a bi­par­tis­an group of mem­bers, Con­gress sent a clear mes­sage that mil­it­ary of­fi­cials should in­su­late one area from cuts: fund­ing for the pre­ven­tion and pro­sec­u­tion of sexu­al as­sault, a grow­ing con­cern in the ranks of the na­tion’s armed forces.

In the om­ni­bus that passed Con­gress over­whelm­ingly last week, ap­pro­pri­at­ors agreed to fully fund the De­fense De­part­ment’s Sexu­al As­sault Pre­ven­tion and Re­sponse Of­fice, provid­ing all $156.5 mil­lion that the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­ques­ted. Ad­di­tion­ally, Con­gress ap­proved $25 mil­lion to in­stall a vic­tims’ as­sist­ance pro­gram pi­on­eered by the Air Force in all branches of the mil­it­ary.

The Air Force’s Spe­cial Vic­tims’ Coun­sel pro­gram, star­ted a year ago, has be­come a mod­el for the mil­it­ary; mem­bers of Con­gress as well as act­iv­ists say it rep­res­ents a re­newed fo­cus by the DOD on re­du­cing as­saults with­in the mil­it­ary’s ranks.

The pro­gram provides leg­al coun­sel for vic­tims of sexu­al as­sault throughout the pro­cess — from re­port­ing a crime to meet­ing with at­tor­neys — rather than solely at tri­al. But aside from aid­ing vic­tims, one of the pro­gram’s ma­jor goals is to in­crease the num­ber of cases that are ac­tu­ally re­por­ted. Sexu­al as­saults are thought to be the most un­der­re­por­ted crime in the mil­it­ary.

And there are signs that it’s work­ing. The Air Force saw a 45 per­cent in­crease in re­por­ted sexu­al as­saults between fisc­al 2012 and fisc­al 2013, with 1,146 in­cid­ents re­por­ted, ac­cord­ing to spokes­wo­man Rose Richeson.

The num­ber of vic­tims who co­oper­ate with an in­vest­ig­a­tion is also grow­ing. The mil­it­ary cur­rently al­lows vic­tims to re­port sexu­al as­saults un­der a “re­stric­ted” pro­cess, through which they can re­ceive med­ic­al treat­ment and coun­sel­ing without trig­ger­ing an in­vest­ig­a­tion or in­form­ing their su­per­i­ors about the as­sault. Many vic­tims are be­lieved to choose this pro­cess to avoid re­tali­ation with­in their ranks.

“We’ve heard from many vic­tims about how of­ten they’re re­tali­ated against if they bring charges for­ward. Over 60 per­cent re­port hav­ing some sort of re­tali­ation. That’s not tol­er­able,” said Rep. Niki Tson­gas, D-Mass., who co­chairs the Mil­it­ary Sexu­al As­sault Pre­ven­tion Caucus and is highly sup­port­ive of the Spe­cial Vic­tims’ Coun­sel pro­gram.

But after the SVC pro­gram was im­ple­men­ted in the Air Force last year, 76 of the 706 vic­tims who ini­tially chose to go through a re­stric­ted pro­cess switched to un­res­tric­ted, al­low­ing SVC coun­selors to help them through the pro­cess of an in­vest­ig­a­tion and, in some cases, a tri­al. “This sug­gests in­di­vidu­als have bet­ter know­ledge of the pro­gram; came for­ward to re­ceive [Sexu­al As­sault Pre­ven­tion and Re­sponse Of­fice] ser­vices; and trus­ted the in­vest­ig­a­tion team and mil­it­ary-justice sys­tem, and the over­all form­al pro­cesses as­so­ci­ated with un­res­tric­ted re­port­ing,” Richeson said.

Vic­tims them­selves are over­whelm­ingly sup­port­ive of the pro­gram. Of the 631 sexu­al as­sault vic­tims who have worked with spe­cial-vic­tims coun­selors, 93 per­cent re­port that they are “ex­tremely sat­is­fied” with their ex­per­i­ence, while 98 per­cent said they would re­com­mend it to an­oth­er ser­vice mem­ber who was as­saul­ted.

One vic­tim who was as­saul­ted be­fore the SVC pro­gram was im­ple­men­ted said that she was ini­tially sched­uled to be in­ter­viewed for tri­al with someone who didn’t have leg­al ex­per­i­ence by her side. “However, I felt a lot more com­fort­able that come the time of the Art­icle 32, an SVC had been ap­poin­ted to me and I was con­fid­ent dur­ing the in­ter­view and not in­tim­id­ated. The same thing goes for testi­fy­ing as well,” the vic­tim wrote, ac­cord­ing to an Air Force re­lease.

Mem­bers from both parties in Con­gress, De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel, and act­iv­ists are highly sup­port­ive of the pro­gram. In a rare show of bi­par­tis­an agree­ment, full fund­ing for in­stalling spe­cial-vic­tims’ coun­selors throughout the mil­it­ary was in­cluded in both the House and Sen­ate ap­pro­pri­ations bills draf­ted last year.

But the lan­guage in the om­ni­bus, like the SVC pro­gram, is fo­cused largely on the pro­sec­u­tion — not pre­ven­tion. Act­iv­ists and mem­bers warn that this is merely the first step in com­batting an is­sue that has plagued the Amer­ic­an armed forces.

“We be­lieve the SVC pro­gram has the po­ten­tial to have a strong im­pact on the ex­per­i­ence of vic­tims who are go­ing through the mil­it­ary-justice pro­cess…. Cur­rent re­forms only treat the symp­toms, not the un­der­ly­ing causes of the sexu­al as­sault epi­dem­ic,” said Nancy Par­rish, the pres­id­ent of Pro­tect Our De­fend­ers, a group aimed at re­du­cing sexu­al as­saults in the mil­it­ary, in a state­ment.

Den­ise Krepp, the former chief coun­sel for U.S. Mari­time Ad­min­is­tra­tion and a former Coast Guard judge ad­voc­ate gen­er­al, said that she worked with many wo­men dur­ing her ser­vice who had been as­saul­ted. Krepp, who test­i­fied earli­er this month at a De­fense De­part­ment pan­el on sexu­al as­saults, said she wor­ries that the mil­it­ary isn’t tak­ing ser­i­ously con­cerns about the cul­ture that al­lows for these kinds of at­tacks.

“Based on the ques­tions that I heard at the hear­ing, it seems like every­body’s say­ing, ‘Well, we’ve taken these steps, there­fore the prob­lem’s go­ing to be solved.’ And the an­swer is it’s not go­ing to be solved be­cause you have people who have been in the sys­tem now for 15 years, 20 years, that are middle-range in their ca­reers who grew up in a mil­it­ary that tol­er­ated [these be­ha­vi­ors]. So it’s not as if they’re go­ing to say overnight, ‘OK, this isn’t go­ing to be tol­er­ated.’ This is go­ing to take years,” Krepp said.

But Tson­gas said she has no­ticed a marked change in the re­cept­ive­ness of mil­it­ary lead­ers to­ward re­du­cing these as­saults over the last dec­ade.

“I know that all the chiefs of staff of the vari­ous ser­vices are very much fo­cused on this, as is the sec­ret­ary of De­fense him­self. That was not the case a num­ber of years ago, when I re­mem­ber ask­ing Sec­ret­ary [Robert] Gates a ques­tion about one as­pect of how they dealt with things and he had no know­ledge,” she said.

But Tson­gas agrees that help­ing vic­tims through the pro­cess of pro­sec­u­tion is just one piece of a grow­ing prob­lem.

“It’s a very com­plic­ated is­sue that has lots of as­pects to it that we have to stay fo­cused on. And [we have to] hold the ser­vices ac­count­able un­til those num­bers show a dra­mat­ic drop and demon­strate a cul­ture that has really changed,” Tson­gas said.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4424) }}

What We're Following See More »
TAKING A LONG VIEW TO SOUTHERN STATES
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Source:
‘PITTING PEOPLE AGAINST EACH OTHER’
Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Source:
THE TIME IS NOW, TED
Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Source:
CHRISTIE, BUSH TRYING TO TAKE HIM DOWN
Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
2 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Source:
ARE YOU THE GATEKEEPER?
Sanders: Obama Is a Progressive
1 days ago
THE LATEST

“Do I think President Obama is a progressive? Yeah, I do,” said Bernie Sanders, in response to a direct question in tonight’s debate. “I think they’ve done a great job.” But Hillary Clinton wasn’t content to sit out the latest chapter in the great debate over the definition of progressivism. “In your definition, with you being the gatekeeper of progressivism, I don’t think anyone else fits that definition,” she told Sanders.

×