Today, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced his plans for a strategic plan to combat military sexual assault. The announcement came after the Department of Defense today released its annual Sexual Assault Prevention and Response report that showed an elevation in reported sexual assaults over the past year.
Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, co-author of Defense STRONG and co-chair of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, was briefed this morning by the Department of Defense (DoD) on their annual report on sexual assault in the military.
Congresswoman Tsongas released the following statement regarding Secretary Hagel's announcement.
"The unsettling numbers released in today's Department of Defense report certainly show that we are a long way from removing sexual assault from our armed forces. For example, the DoD report indicates a staggering amount of instances of perceived retaliation against victims of sexual assault, which confirms the alarming and persistent anecdotal evidence my office has heard.
"The statistics in the report continue to demonstrate the seriousness of this problem and support the need to root out the pervasive cultural flaws plaguing the United States military.
"To that end, Secretary Hagel today announced a strategic plan aimed at preventing and addressing sexual assault. I appreciate Secretary Hagel's continued commitment to this critical national security matter. His push last month to change Article 60, the article of the Uniform Code of Military Justice that recently allowed a commander to dismiss a guilty verdict in a sexual assault case, is a step in the right direction. And today's strategic plan hits on several important areas that my colleagues and I have been working to address legislatively.
"For example, the independent review panel, which will convene as early as July to examine the programs and procedures used by the military to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate sexual assault crimes, is a critical component to assessing effectiveness and setting the foundations for future change. As a champion of this panel in last year's National Defense Authorization Act, I am eager to see the recommendations the Secretary has required within twelve months.
"I'm also pleased that Secretary Hagel is committed to improving the Victim's Counsel program put in place by the Defense STRONG Act by applying the lessons learned from the Air Force Special Victims Counsel program across the services.
"As much as the Secretary's strategic plan is a step in the right direction, I also believe we must be doing more. The report, combined with the string of sexual assault scandals involving military officials, confirm a deep-rooted cultural failure. The sexual assault crisis is complex; it is a systemic problem and accountability is needed at every level, from everyone -- officer and enlisted alike.
"We have a long way to go toward combating and preventing sexual assault in the military and I am committed to continuing my work with my colleagues in Congress on this critical national security issue."