U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) today urged Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagelto take action to strengthen sexual assault prevention programs in the military. In theirletter the senators called himto elevate the rank of the personnel assigned to lead sexual assault prevention and response programs to ensure they have the necessary experience and qualifications. The letter comes on the heels of the recent arrest of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, the head of the Air Force's Sexual Assault and Prevention Program, on charges of assault. Yesterday the senators discussed the issue at the White House in a meeting with senior White House officials and other Senate and House members who are involved in legislation to fight military sexual assault.
"As a former prosecutor, I know how important it is to have strong policies in place to combat sexual assault and I've worked hard to pass legislation to fight sexual assault in the military," said Klobuchar."These prevention programs are critical to help fight sexual assault in our ranks and we need to do everything we can to make sure their leaders are qualified and effective."
"Recent events have shown just how important it is that the different branches of our Armed Forces are putting qualified people in these positions who will respond forcefully and immediately to sexual assaults in the ranks,"said McCaskill, former prosecutor for Jackson County, Missouri. "As we work to better protect survivors, and hold perpetrators accountable, this is one commonsense step that I hope Pentagon leadership can take quickly."
Klobuchar recently introduced bipartisan to crack down on sexual assault in the military. The Military Sexual Assault Prevention Act of 2013, introduced with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), would revise the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to require the Secretary of Defense to retain restricted reports of sexual assault for at least 50 years. This removes the language that would have required that the report be retained only at the request of the filing service member, allowing for automatic retention of the reports. The bill also would establish preferred policy regarding the disposition of sexual assault cases through courts martial, and prohibit service in the Armed Forces by individuals previously convicted of a sexual offense. Earlier this year, Klobuchar received an award from the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN) for her efforts to support military sexual assault victims.
In response to a recent sexual assault case at Aviano Air Base in Italy, McCaskill grilled military leaders in two Senate hearings, and subsequently introduced legislation that would curtail the authority of military commanders to dismiss jury convictions against sex offenders. McCaskill's bill would also require written justifications when sentences are lessened or commuted.
In recent years there has been an increase in reports of sexual assaults in the military. The Fiscal Year 2012 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military report released earlier this week shows that the number of sexual assaults reported by members of the military rose from 3,192 to 3,374 in 2012, and the department estimates that as many as 26,000 service members were assaulted, up from 19,300 estimated in 2010. It also reveals a 1.7% increase in active duty servicewomen experiencing unwanted sexual contact and a 6% increase in reported sexual assaults since 2010. Earlier this week, Klobuchar met with Major General Gary Patton, the Director of DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) to discuss the report and initiatives to combat sexual assault in the military.
Research has shown that sexual trauma not only hurts the victims, but can also take a toll on their fellow service members by severely undermining unit cohesion, morale, and overall force effectiveness.
A full text of the letter is below:
The Honorable Chuck Hagel
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Dear Secretary Hagel:
We appreciated your response to the recent arrest of Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, the officer in charge of the Air Force's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program, on charges of sexual battery. The incident has of course raised serious questions about the management of the military services' respective sexual assault prevention programs.
We understand that the services each have their own well-developed personnel management and leader development systems. But given the priority you have placed on preventing sexual assault in the military, we ask that you consider requiring greater standardization of the experience level and educational qualifications of the personnel assigned to administer these programs across the services.
The personnel assigned to lead sexual assault prevention and response programs should be elevated across the services. For example, the Air Force's SAPR program is led by an officer at the O-5 level while the Army's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program is led by a civilian. The type and rank of personnel assigned to lead these offices indicates the priority the services attach to them, and assigning personnel at a uniformly high level would help ensure that all services will place a higher priority on the administration of these programs. We ask that you consider issuing a directive through DOD SAPRO to standardize and elevate personnel assigned to lead service sexual assault prevention and response programs.
We appreciate your attention to this important matter.