Military Claims ‘Zero Tolerance’ for Sex Crimes

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Amid growing controversy over military sex crimes, the Department of Defense says it is moving closer to backing up its “zero tolerance” claim, and announces the addition of new policies and procedures to its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program.
     The program, which implements the military’s ever-evolving policy on sexual assault, has been modified to provide additional rules, responsibility assignments, and guidance and procedures, according to the department.
     Some of the SAPR enhancements include expedited transfers of military service members who file unrestricted reports of sexual assault, establishing the Defense Sexual Assault Incident Database, incorporating a DoD-wide certification program to train sexual assault response coordinators, establishing the DoD’s Safe Helpline as the sole DoD hotline for crises intervention and establishing victim assessments to monitor cases where victims’ life and safety may be in jeopardy, according to the DoD.
     The DoD also has announced it is considering whether it should extend its sexual assault reporting options to DoD civilians and contractors working overseas.
     The general goal, the DoD says on its website, is to “achieve a culture free of sexual assaults.”
     But while the effort has garnered some applause, some U.S. representatives say more must be done.
     Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) on March 13, 2013 remarked in the first Senate hearing on sexual assault in almost a decade, the military’s claim of “zero tolerance,” regarding what she described as a “crisis,” falls short of the current reality.
     “We know this crisis is staggering and despite some important reforms by the Department of Defense – I thank them for those, they’re trying to improve prevention, investigation, prosecution – still too many military sex offenders go unpunished and too many victims do not get the justice that they deserve. As the chairman said, this is unacceptable and it must stop. And we are the ones who can stop it,” said Boxer, echoing the sentiment of Senate Armed Services subcommittee chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI).
     Boxer and Texas Sen. John Cornyn (R) introduced an amendment (SA 2981) to the National Defense Authorization Act in November 2012 that proposed prohibiting convicted sex offenders from joining the military. The amendment passed the Senate unanimously.
     Part of the sexual assault crises, Boxer said, is a lack of cooperation from above.
     “Immediate steps must be taken to prevent senior commanders from having the ability to unilaterally reverse a decision or a sentence by a military court,” she said.
     On Thursday, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin commented for the first time after reversing a military sexual assault conviction that has attracted media attention across the globe. An Air Force jury found Lt. Colonel James Wilkerson III guilty of sexually assaulting a woman at his home near Aviano Air Base in Italy, but Franklin threw the conviction out.
     “After considering all matters in the entire record of trial, I hold a genuine and reasonable doubt that Lt. Col. Wilkerson committed the crime of sexual assault,” Franklin said in a letter released to the public Thursday morning. Franklin is commander of the 3rd Air Force at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, but is not a judge or an attorney, according to a Military.com news report.
     Lifetime prevalence of sexual assault for civilian women is about 17 percent, according to the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP), headquartered at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. Prevalence for military women, however, is estimated to be between 23 and 33 percent, according to the CDP, and 46 percent of them suffer symptoms consistent with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In addition, rates of re-victimization are higher for women in the military.
     The SAPR program had its beginning in 2004 when then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld directed Dr. David S. C. Chu, former Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel Readiness, to review the military’s treatment of sexual assault cases.
     The review led to the creation of the Care for Victims of Sexual Assault Task Force, spearheaded by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Health, Protection and Readiness Ms. Ellen Embrey. Embrey found of highest priority the need to develop a stand-alone point of accountability for sexual assault policy within the DoD. In January 2005, the DoD implemented official policy based on recommendations of the task force as well as directives of the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2005. By October, SAPR transitioned into a permanent office under the leadership of Major General Gary S. Patton, who continues to help evolve the offices efforts in assault prevention and response

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