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Letter to Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense, Re: Protect Servicemembers from Sexual Assault

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


Letter to Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense, Re: Protect Servicemembers from Sexual Assault

Senator Clinton Presses Pentagon to Protect Servicemembers from Sexual Assault

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton today called on the Pentagon to improve its sexual assault prevention and response efforts. In a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Senator Clinton cited troubling new reports from the Department of Veterans Affairs that nearly 15 percent of servicemembers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and 2007 suffered military sexual trauma ranging from harassment to rape, with female servicemembers disproportionately victimized. Senator Clinton requested that the Pentagon report back on its efforts to protect servicemembers from sexual assault and better respond to incidents when they occur.

"There is mounting evidence that the Pentagon's handling of sexual assaults is severely lacking. It's well past time that the military take aggressive steps to protect our servicemembers from these crimes and provide a much more comprehensive response to those who have been victimized. That is why I have introduced legislation outlining concrete steps to improve prevention and response and continue to press the Pentagon for action. Our women and men in uniform protect us from harm every day and we owe it to them to do all we can to protect them when we can," Senator Clinton said.

Last month Senator Clinton introduced legislation to address concerns that sexual assault rates may be on the rise within the military and that many instances of sexual assault go unreported. Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-CA) introduced a companion resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives. In August, Senator Clinton wrote to the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee requesting a hearing on the issue.

A survey conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) at 14 military installations and released in July found 103 servicemembers who said they were the victims of sexual assault, yet approximately half of them never reported their assaults to the Department of Defense (DoD). According to the GAO, fear of harassment and lack of confidence in the official response motivated many victims to remain silent. GAO found that DoD has failed to provide adequate guidance on implementation of sexual assault prevention and response programs in deployed or joint environments, leaving many servicemembers vulnerable in situations where the risks for sexual assault can be heightened. GAO also found that DoD does not have adequate mental health resources to provide critically needed outreach and treatment to victims of sexual assault.

Since 2002, 59,690 female veterans reported being raped, sexual assaulted, or experienced another form of military sexual trauma, constituting almost 20 percent of the women seen at Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities nationally, according to the VA. In 2007, 2,688 sexual assaults were reported, according to DoD, including 1,259 reports of rape. Yet only 181 of the 2,212 (8 percent) reports investigated during 2007 were referred to courts martial -- a figure far below civilian prosecution rates, where approximately 40 percent of those arrested are prosecuted.

The text of Senator Clinton's letter follows.

October 31, 2008

The Honorable Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
The United States Department of Defense
The Pentagon
Suite 319
Washington, D.C. 20301

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I am writing to urge you to improve the sexual assault prevention and response efforts of the Department of Defense (DoD). As you may know, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently released a study regarding reported military sexual trauma among servicemembers served by the VA. According to this research, nearly 15 percent of veterans deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan from October 2001 through October 2007 have suffered military sexual trauma ranging from harassment to rape. These victims were also 1.5 times as likely as other veterans to need mental health services. The findings of this study are shocking and unacceptable. Particular concerning is the finding that female servicemembers are disproportionately victimized by these incidents. According to the study, more than 1 in 7 female veterans seeking health care services from the VA report military sexual trauma. Women who reported harassment or assault were 2.3 times as likely to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder as those who did not, and were also more likely to suffer from depression or engage in substance abuse.

A report issued by the Government Accountability Office in July found that current training to prevent military sexual assaults has not been consistently effective, with some commanders failing to support the prevention programs and more than half of victims not reporting incidents. The Department of Defense reported that in FY 2007, 2,688 sexual assaults were reported including 1,259 reports of rape. Only 8% of reports investigated during this year were referred to courts martial - a figure far below civilian prosecution rates, where 40% of those arrested are prosecuted.

At a September hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform's Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Dr. Kaye Whitley, Director of the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO), presented testimony on DoD's efforts to address sexual assault. As part of her testimony, she noted that SAPRO was working to develop a comprehensive sexual assault prevention strategy by the end of the fiscal year.

In addition, Dr. Whitley discussed the role of the Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services (DTF-SAMS), which is charged with assessing and making recommendations regarding sexual assault prevention and response. The first meeting of this task Force was held in August, at which time members heard briefings on the current efforts of the DoD and VA in addressing sexual assault. In her testimony, Dr. Whitley also noted that the Task Force will visit several military installations.

In light of the findings described above, I hereby request that the DoD provide my office with the following:

1) An update on SAPRO's comprehensive sexual assault prevention strategy, DoD's plans for its implementation, and the timeline for its implementation;
2) An update on the timeline for the release of recommendations from the Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services;
3) An update on DoD efforts to ensure that every military sexual trauma victim has access to care and treatment through the spectrum of DoD and VA facilities, regardless of location.

I appreciate your attention to this matter. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Hillary Rodham Clinton


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