Building on their calls to prevent sexual assault in the military, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) today are calling on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to implement a more rigorous review process and standards for all Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) roles across every branch of the military. Their call follows alarming news reports of two SAPR personnel coming under investigation for sexual assault allegations and a damning Pentagon report citing that 26,000 military personnel had been the victims of unwanted sexual contact in 2012.
"This crisis has reached a breaking point that requires more than the traditional process for filling military jobs," wrote the Senators, who are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We can no longer be comfortable placing the service member in a SAPR position solely based upon individual career paths and personal aspirations."
The senators are specifically urging Secretary Hagel to consider making SAPR jobs nominative positions, which will require personnel filling these positions to receive more rigorous training and certification. Nominative positions are often considered the most significant, challenging and prestigious jobs within the military and applicants must complete a thorough screening and interview process for that classification. Transitioning SAPR jobs to a nominative process, the letter says, would promote direct leadership involvement and help ensure only persons of the highest caliber who pass the review and application process will be vested with SAPR duties.
"There is a sense of urgency surrounding military sexual assault that requires answers sooner rather than later," the Senators added. "[A] change in culture with respect to sexual assault will require more than education and awareness training. Our military needs to develop a culture that gives preeminence to jobs related to sexual assault prevention."
The full text of Senators Shaheen and McCaskill's letter to Secretary Hagel is below:
May 15, 2013
The Honorable Chuck Hagel
U.S. Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Dear Secretary Hagel:
We write today with respect to the alarming crisis of sexual assault within our nation's military. The latest report of an Army First Sergeant's allegations of sexual misconduct at Fort Hood is disturbing. Equally, if not more disturbing is the idea that he was responsible for handling sexual assault cases. This is the second incident of this kind in a period of two weeks. The fact that the first case involved the Air Force and now this one involving the Army speaks volumes to the need to elevate all Sexual Assault Prevention Response jobs, whether as billets or collateral duties, to the level of importance that they deserve.
While we appreciate your efforts to ensure that candidates for these jobs are rescreened, retrained, and recertified, we think that the bigger issue is making sure that there is a solid process in place to get the highest caliber candidate into all Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) jobs. As you well know, Congress is considering changes to legislation to address the inequities in the military justice system, which you also admit needs modifications. Although we firmly believe that changes to the military justice system are a key component, we also believe that changing the military culture starts with changing the process for filling these jobs and holding the leadership accountable for playing a role in that process. Service members need to take the jobs seriously and recognize that only the best and brightest will be chosen to represent the services in that capacity.
We urge you to consider making SAPR jobs nominative positions and to ensure that the personnel filling these positions are receiving all necessary and appropriate training and certification. As you know, nominative jobs require a rigorous application, screening and interview process. Often times, these jobs are considered nominative because of the caliber of person needed to fill some of the most significant, challenging and highly desired positions. By transitioning SAPR jobs to a nominative process, this enables direct leadership involvement from the commander, who would now hand-pick the person. Furthermore, it is our understanding that there is a level of prestige that comes with taking nominative jobs because they are recognized as premiere jobs within the organization. Applicants know up front that these jobs will be challenging, career-enhancing and only the best of the best need apply.
This crisis has reached a breaking point that requires more than the traditional process for filling military jobs. We can no longer be comfortable placing the service member in a SAPR position solely based upon individual career paths and personal aspirations. As proven during the Air Force hearing last week, there are holes in that process. The Air Force perpetrator's record "fit the profile" for someone being qualified to handle the job. In many cases, no interviews are required and the commander plays a hands-off role in choosing who will perform those duties.
There is a sense of urgency surrounding military sexual assault that requires answers sooner rather than later. You were correct in saying, "Sexual assault has no place in the United States military" and, "the American people, including our service members, should expect a culture of absolutely no tolerance for this deplorable behavior." We agree, but the change in culture with respect to sexual assault will require more than education and awareness training. Our military needs to develop a culture that gives preeminence to jobs related to sexual assault prevention. We know you share our concerns and appreciate the leadership you have demonstrated thus far. We trust you will also see the benefit of making SAPR jobs nominative positions.
Thank you for your consideration and your continued distinguished service on behalf of all of our men and women in uniform.