Target: United States Department of Defense
Goal: End the insufficient practices and policies that hurt and betray survivors of sexual assault within our military
Awareness surrounding sexual assault within the military is becoming slowly more ubiquitous, yet new reports indicate the United States is far from having eradicated the institutional epidemic infecting the ranks of our armed forces.
A report, recently published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), catalogs how the military still hasn’t fixed a multitude of systemic obstacles that contribute to sexual assault and make it less likely for survivors to seek and receive help. The report found that most first responders do not have adequate training, even after a 2005 Department of Defense directive mandated such comprehensive training. One of the major problems the GAO found is the lack of unified and established guidelines for addressing injuries that stem from sexual assault. Victims of these crimes often require very specialized advocacy, and those officers assigned this job often are ignorant of the services available for victims or the appropriate handling of such delicate situations.
One of the biggest issues is confidentiality. There are two ways to report sexual assault in the military: unrestricted and restricted reports. The former entails a report of an assault to superiors and military law enforcement who are then supposed to begin an investigation and provide physical and mental health services. The latter entails victims informing superiors without instigating a criminal investigation. The survivors are still supposed to receive medical care, but details are kept anonymous. The GAO found that policies on the ground are inconsistent and often contradict the ability of servicewomen to file a confidential report of sexual assault. This is highly problematic because it discourages victims, who are already struggling with feelings of shame and fear, from seeking justice and care. These contradictory policies also create confusion for health care providers and what they believe their responsibilities are in terms of reporting.
In 2011, U.S. Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) introduced the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (STOP Act), She plans to reintroduce the bill this year, which would establish an objective office for confronting sexual assault in the military.
Call on the Department of Defense to address the horrific deficiencies within our military for dealing with sexual assault. The men and women who protect us must know that we are on their side when such tragedies occur.
Dear Defense Department,
The epidemic of military sexual assault has gone on for far too long. When our men and women choose to enter the armed forces, they should be assured that the nation they are defending will protect them at any cost, even if the situation is difficult or messy. What has gone on for the last several decades is a complete betrayal of the courageous individuals who serve us.
Raising awareness of military sexual assault is crucial, but concrete action must be taken to integrate consistent and effective practices into all branches of the military. Some of these practices include standardizing procedures for collecting evidence, providing specialized medical care, and keeping the identities of survivors private. Unfortunately, this is not the reality as is so blatantly evident by years of research and studies. Instead, sexual assault survivors within the military have to navigate different standards between branches, even at individual bases, and are often coerced into staying quiet and surviving the trauma on their own.
It is a fundamental injustice to send our citizens off to war, who then must suffer the pain and trauma of battle, without providing adequate and comprehensive recourse when they are assaulted by another member of our armed fores. This is not the type of country we want for anyone, let alone for the men and women who so bravely risk their lives to protect us. Please take swift and comprehensive action to address this national crisis.
[Your Name Here]
photo credit: google art project