WASHINGTON (April 1, 2013) -- The Department of Defense released updated policies and procedures aimed at combating sexual assaults in the military and improving care for victims, March 28.
Senior defense officials said the updated policies and procedures provide a framework that improves safety for sexual assault victims, standardizes victim-assistance services across the force, enhances prevention efforts and provides victims added confidence to come forward to report assaults and seek treatment.
"Today's release of an updated policy directive underscores the department's commitment to combating sexual assault on every level within the military," said Army Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton, director of DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, or SAPRO.
SAPRO officials said the policy changes came about through a coordinated effort among the services, the National Guard Bureau, the DOD inspector general, military healthcare providers, chaplains and the entire DOD community to improve every aspect of the department's response to sexual assault.
"We have thousands of victims in the armed forces," Air Force Col. Alan R. Metzler, SAPRO's deputy director, said in an interview with American Forces Press Service. "We need to make sure that we prevent sexual assault from happening, and when it does, provide a response system that can care for people and hold people accountable so we can get the perpetrators out of the armed forces."
The updated policies incorporate expedited transfers for victims, establish a hotline for crisis intervention, and require additional training as well as new, uniform standards for care givers.
"We have worked with the national certification body and codified into our policy that every victim advocate, every sexual assault response coordinator have a level of training and competence and national certification so that they are providing victims the best quality care," Metzler said.
Senior Pentagon officials emphasize that the department has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault. In recent weeks, Patton has met with Capitol Hill lawmakers to discuss the department's response to sexual assault, emphasizing that the Pentagon needs to do more to combat the crime while welcoming input from outside groups.
A goal of the new policies and procedures is to encourage sexual assault victims to have confidence in the system and to come forward and report crimes, which Metzler acknowledged are "vastly under reported."
"The department takes this seriously, that when a victim tells us that they have been sexually assaulted, we will believe them," he said. "We will protect their privacy. They will be able to have help and care because we understand the nature of this crime and we want them to come forward to get help."