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Vice testifies on Army's response to sexual assault reports

Army News Service

Release Date: 2/26/2004

By Spec. Lorie Jewell

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 25, 2004) - Vice Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey Jr. assured members of a Senate Armed Forces subcommittee that the Army is committed to a zero tolerance policy of sexual violence within its ranks.

"We simply will not tolerate it," Casey said. "We will do what is right to ensure that every Soldier is treated with dignity and respect."

Casey made his remarks as a member of a panel called to testify before the subcommittee on personnel about policies and procedures for preventing and responding to incidents of sexual assault in the armed services. Top leaders from the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Department of Defense also testified.

Subcommittee members said they were alarmed at recent allegations in the civilian media -- they cited articles in the Denver Post most often -- that the services aren't doing enough to address problems of sexual assault or misconduct in theater, mainly Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld earlier this month ordered a Defense Department-wide investigation into the allegations.

"We have 300,000 Soldiers deployed in 47 countries," Casey said. "We are committed to the care and support of all Soldiers," adding that the recent allegations have "caused us concern."

Sen. Susan Collins, a subcommittee member, brought up a recent Defense Department report that puts the number of reported sexual misconduct incidents in the central command theater in the last year at 88 - 80 of which are in the Army. Seven were in the Air Force and one in the Marine Corps.

Casey said that report -- along with Rumsfeld's mandate -- has prompted leaders to "take a hard look" at how the Army deals with the issue.

"Our preliminary review in victim assistance leads me to believe we have more work to do in this area," Casey said.

The Army does have a victim witness liaison program, but Casey said he believes it operates at "too high a level." There are six victim witness liaisons in theater now, but they are division levels, making access difficult for Soldiers stationed away from division locations, Casey said.

"We can do better than that, and we will," the general said, adding that Army leaders are looking at a Navy victim advocacy program called Sexual Assault Victim Intervention as a possible model for improving the Army's policies and procedures for working with victims.

Rumsfeld's directive prompted the Army to create a task force that is examining the effectiveness of current policies for reporting and addressing reports of sexual assault, Casey said. The task force is expected to report its findings by the end of May, he added.

Should any recommendations for change or improvements come before then, the Army will act on them accordingly, Casey said. One new policy -- a quarterly review of all reports of sexual assault -- has already been adopted, he noted.

Many of the concerns raised by subcommittee members during the hearing are already on the task force's radar screen, Casey said. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, subcommittee chairman, wanted to know if the Army has a policy that calls for separating Soldiers who report sexual misconduct from those accused of it. Chambliss used as an example a female Soldier who told him that she had to continue working in the same unit with an officer she filed a report against, making a difficult situation worse.

David Chu, under secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, said situations like that are left to a commander's discretion. Casey added that mandating a victim leave a unit puts the onus on the victim, but that leaders are looking at the possibility of removing the accused or implementing a no-contact policy for such situations.

Chambliss also questioned the timeliness of investigations of sexual assault or misconduct, pointing to a case in which a female Soldier reported an allegation in November but could not get resolution because the alleged attacker has left. The person treating the woman, and another assigned to handle possible prosecution, have also moved on, Chambliss said.

"The people involved are coming and going, causing everything to start over," Chambliss said. "This woman is trapped. One individual suffering this kind of distress is one too many."

Casey acknowledged that timeliness is a concern that Army leaders have asked the task force to look at.

"Everything is harder in theater, everything takes longer," Casey said. "Stretching it on is not appropriate."

Subcommittee members were given preliminary copies of the Armed Forces 2002 Sexual Harassment Survey, which shows the number of reported sexual assaults dropped from 6 percent in 1995 to 3 percent in 2002. One-fourth of the incidents were reported by Soldiers in a deployed status, an area that needs to be looked at in more depth, Chu said.

The survey reports that service members said they receive training and understood sexual harassment policies and what constitutes sexual harassment. Service members also rated leadership higher in 2002 than in 1995 for making honest and reasonable efforts to stop sexual harassment, the survey said.

Chu said 60,000 service members were surveyed, with 20,000 responding. Reserve and National Guard members were not included, but will be surveyed this year, he added.

Final publication of the survey is pending, he added. When Sen. John Warner, chairman of the armed services committee, wanted to know why it takes two years to do a survey and release its results, Chu said this survey was more complicated because it did not ask 'yes' and 'no' questions, and it was a "paper and pencil" type of survey. He noted that future surveys would be conducted on the Internet, significantly reducing the time it takes to tabulate responses.

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