The Army is in the process of making the most significant changes to how the Service prevents and responds to sexual harassment, sexual assault, retaliation, and other harmful behaviors due to the recommendations of an independent commission established to examine current Department of Defense programs and policies.
The DOD 90-day Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military, or IRC, was established by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III on Feb. 26, 2021. The IRC announcement occurred shortly after the Army’s release of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee’s report, which called for the need for broader reviews of how the Army handles sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Led by Lynn Rosenthal, a renowned expert on sexual violence prevention and the first-ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, the IRC focused on four lines of effort: accountability, prevention, climate and culture, and victim support and care.
Jill Londagin, Director of the Army Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, and Dr. James A. Helis, Director of the Army Resilience Directorate, which oversees the SHARP program, were among several members of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-1 and ARD who directly supported the IRC subcommittees along with subject matter experts from other Military Departments and the civilian sector.
Austin approved the DOD strategy implementation roadmap on Sep 22, 2021.
“The implementation plan consists of tasks assigned to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Military Departments through a tiered-approach across four tiers,” said Londagin. “It includes iterative evaluations throughout the process in order to assess the effectiveness and progress of early actions to ensure intended outcomes.”
Tier 1 guidance was released on Oct. 13, 2021; Tier 2 guidance on Nov. 12, 2021; and Tier 3 and 4 guidance on Dec. 15, 2021. Along with the tasks associated with each Tier release, the Military Departments were required to develop implementation plans and resource mapping by tiers.
While the IRC itself was convened for just 90 days, their recommendations, 82 in all, will result in changes that vary from immediate actions to requirements that will take several years to implement, according to Londagin, who is dual-hatted, also serving as the Army’s IRC lead.
Those changes include, among other things, working with Congress to amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice to remove prosecution of sexual assault and related crimes from the military chain of command.
“We’re currently immersed in Tier 1 actions,” said Londagin. “These actions build upon existing foundations, infrastructure, establishing a dedicated prevention workforce, training and leader development.”
Of the Tier 1 actions, Secretary Austin assigned some of these as “Priority Actions” for execution in Fiscal Year 2022. These priority actions include:
1) Establish independently trained investigators for sexual harassment and mandatory initiation of involuntary separation for all substantiated complaints;
2) Eliminate collateral duty for Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, or SARCs, and Victim Advocates, or VAs, with exceptions for isolated installations;
3) Review and update all policies that unnecessarily restrict data collection on important populations of Soldiers; and
4) Implement the “No Wrong Door” approach to sexual harassment, sexual assault, and domestic abuse; and
5) Increase victim agency and control of their response process by maximizing adherence to survivor preferences in expedited transfers; and
6) Make sexual harassment victims eligible for sexual assault prevention and response, or SAPR, services.
“The Army has already completed four Priority Actions assigned to the Military Departments,” said Londagin. “All Army Activities 013-2021, Expedited Transfer Policy, addresses the requirement for increasing victim agency and control of the response process. Additionally, the Army is the only Military Department that’s already structured to provide SHARP/SAPR support to sexual harassment victims,” said Londagin.
Other significant tasks assigned to the Military Services as part of Tier 1 requirements include:
• Determine the optimum full-time prevention workforce, and equip all echelons of all components;
• Increase access to and visibility of civilian community-based care; and
• Conduct a comprehensive approach to professionalizing, strengthening, and resourcing the SHARP workforce at all echelons.
Londagin noted that many of the IRC recommendations across all four tiers build upon actions that are currently underway in the Army, such as This is My Squad, the Brigade and Battalion Commander’s Assessment Program, and the Behavioral Health Pulse.
“While implementation of the IRC recommendations is a long process, I’m encouraged by the way ahead,” said Londagin. “As a survivor of sexual assault, I believe transformation is possible, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re not only transforming the SHARP program; we’re transforming the Army.”