“A woman who signs up to protect her country is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire,” said Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA).
Harman introduced a bill this summer to increase the investigation and prosecution of military sexual assault and rape cases. Last week she joined others to question the director of the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, Dr. Kaye Whitley, on the concerning matter.
The goal of the meeting was to ensure that the DoD has policies and oversight mechanisms in place to prevent and properly deal with sexual assault in the military.
This meeting came after some prominent women—including some women from the House Armed Services Committee—called on the Pentagon to respond to a July 31 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on sexual assault in the military.
The DoD released a report earlier this month that found 2,688 reports of sexual assult in the military during fiscal year 2007.
Harman said the number of reported military rapes has jumped 73 percent from 2004 to 2006.
Whitley said the DoD has initiatives in place to combat the problem.
“Our civilian counterparts struggle with this as well,” said Whitley at the meeting. “I mean, there’s no way of knowing how many [sexual assault cases] are out there. But hopefully, what we will be doing is creating a climate so that people will feel comfortable with coming forward.”
The GAO Report
The GAO report questioned the military’s approach to sexual assault, saying that:
- the DoD doesn’t adequately provide guidance on implementing sexual assault policies;
- there was a shortage of mental healthcare providers for sexual assault victims;
- sexual assault prevention and response training programs lacked consistent effectiveness;
- some commanders don’t support the program and its initiatives; and
- the Pentagon’s guidance suffers when applied to deployed and joint environments.
“Left unchecked, these challenges can discourage or prevent some service members from using the programs when needed,” the GAO said. It further found that out of the 103 service members who have been allegedly sexually assaulted, only 51 victims reported the assault.
The report further found that women didn’t report their assaults because they either thought nothing would be done about it, or they feared of ostracism, ridicule and harassment from their commanders and peers.
The DoD announced last month it would implement a new strategy to protect women in the military from sexual assault, but those initiatives won’t be in place until October 2009.
Many at the meeting were concerned that it wouldn’t help those women who need help now.
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