Remarks by Secretary Hagel to DoD Safe Help Line and Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network Staff, Washington DC

Press Conference

By:  Charles Hagel
Date: April 21, 2014
Location: Unknown

SCOTT BERKOWITZ, RAINN PRESIDENT: I'm pleased to introduce Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel as our guest. We've been working very hard on Safe Help Line and our victim service programs. We've had great support from DoD. It's been really just an extraordinary relationship. It's been -- it's been so fun to -- in a way -- to work on something where -- where there's such motivation to innovate, to try new things, a willingness to really do what we can to figure out the best way to help victims.

Many of you have met General [Jeffrey J.] Snow who was here last week, the head of [DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program]. He's -- he's told me a lot about how much he's liked working with the secretary and how personally committed the secretary is to -- to fixing this problem and addressing this and helping victims.

So, you know, I feel great to know that at the very top, there's inspired leadership that wants to make this right. So we're -- we're very glad to have Secretary Hagel here.

(APPLAUSE)

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Thank you. Will you let me stand in front of the sign?

(Laughter.)

I know that's sacred ground.

(Laughter.)

I'm an interloper over here.

But Scott, thank you. And thanks to all of you.

I can't tell you how much you mean to all of us and I know how much you mean to victims. So that's first. I just want to let you know, we have, I think a pretty deep appreciation for what you do.

And my opportunity here this morning is to understand even more completely what you do and how you do it.

That I know you're all motivated for the right reasons or you wouldn't be doing this. That alone is impressive. But that's where you start, as you all know, if you're going to change the world, and you know, make it better.

I was impressed with a lot of the little signs that you pinned up on the wall from some of the people that you've helped and what they've had to say about your help. And that's -- that's really the, I think, the defining dynamic of what you're doing -- (inaudible) -- and you find yourself and read some of those comments. That's what it's about. So, thank you, and you really are changing the world for the better.

We're, at DOD, trying to do as much as an institution can do. But institutions are nothing more than people. The institution is the housing, it's the framework, it's the building, but it's the people who make up an institution. It's like your -- your efforts here, and DOD, and the people at the DOD leadership -- (inaudible).

We're all committed to, first of all, focus on the victims' rights and victims assistance advocacy. And we're going to stop it, and that's the ultimate goal here. But as we pursue that objective, we don't want to lose sight of the victims. And what they went through, what they're continuing to go through, and the consequences for their future.

So, your role in this is really important. And we've got -- (inaudible) -- responsibilities at DOD, but, just like everything in life, everyone in positions of leadership are accountable, and it doesn't make any difference if you're at the top of the military structure, a four-star general or if you're a private first class. You're accountable, and you're responsible first for your own actions and your own behavior and your own conduct. And then it works out from there.

So, what you do here helps us tremendously as we all work together through this. We talked a little earlier about how you've been able to bring private-public sectors together in your best practices and how you sort of value that. And I suspect all of you have various backgrounds of where you're coming from and what your thoughts are about the world, but you're united obviously in this focus and this objective.

But you all have your own stories and you all come from different backgrounds and educations. But it is the power of -- I mean a harness, a focus on doing something right and making the world better, which is really the common denominator, I think of all this, for the military -- (inaudible). And in the end, that's all that counts. And you guys know that.

So, thank you for giving me an opportunity to say hello and to thank you on behalf of everyone at DoD, and we do really appreciate, rely on you, and I know we're going continue to do more. We'll try to continue to support you in every way -- in every way we can. Our leaders, some have been mentioned, General Snow, Major Youngblood who will be transitioning to Okinawa. They all -- (inaudible). General Snow is running the Boston Marathon, by the way.

(Laughter.)

You've inspired him so much.

(Laughter.)

He's out running the marathon. The only question I have, why does he have time to train?

(Laughter.)

He's probably not doing his job.

(Laughter.)

If he's got that much time, so --

(Laughter.)

But thank you all and happy spring. Take care of yourselves, too. You all have to take care of yourselves. This is tough business. You carry a lot around with you, so, don't lose sight of who you are.

Thank you.

(Applause.)

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Good morning, sir, (inaudible) -- hotline program manager here.

I was wondering if you could talk about what you see as the biggest obstacle for survivors is, with sexual assault in the military, when coming forward to report their attack and get the help they deserve?

SEC. HAGEL: I think it's probably the stigma. First, we have tried -- we haven't got it all yet. But we've tried -- we try every day to bring trust and confidence and credibility into our system, into our reporting system so that a victim has confidence in our system.

And that takes some time. It's a matter of trust. It's like everything in life. It's the coin of the realm for everything that you all know, trust.

Second, and I think this is still something we're going to be working on for awhile, but the whole stigma issue of, "Well, it was his fault or her fault," or you know -- you know all the stories. And that's a tough thing for people to deal with because it takes a lot of courage to take on a perceived system or he said, she said kind of thing.
And I think those are probably the two most significant impediments that we're dealing with. Now, there are other issues as well.

Q: Thank you sir.

Q: I had a question too.

Good morning.

SEC. HAGEL: Good morning.

Q: Thank you for being here. I'm the policy associate here at RAINN. And in your view, what do you feel has made the biggest positive difference when addressing the issue of sexual assault in the military?

SEC. HAGEL: I don't think there's any one thing. I think this is an insidious issue that -- that is part of our society, unfortunately, and culture. What the president launched earlier this year on college campuses -- this is not just a problem indigenous to the military. Our -- our people in the military come from society. We reflect society.

And our standards, our expectations, our structures are different, but nonetheless, we're part of our society. So, I think you have to start there in understanding the -- the big issues here, and how you deal with it and how you resolve it. And because it is a societal issue, there's not, I don't believe, just one thing that makes a difference.
First, you have to start with leadership and a focus. Continue emphasis. Focus energy on this issue right at the top. You hold everybody accountable. Everybody's accountable, as I said, for their own actions, but anyone who has a leadership position in the military is accountable for their people.

They're accountable, first of all, accountable for their own actions. Leadership is not just telling people what to do, but you start with yourself, the leader. Then, the system of reporting, and what you are all doing here, developing trust and confidence in our system, that a victim can come forward and expect justice. And that's another component of it.

So, I think it's all those things together, but they have to be coordinated, they have to be focused, and that's what we do in our SAPRO offices, people in our efforts all over the world, bases. But it has to start at the top. And if the secretary of defense does not put an emphasis on this, there are a lot of other big issues out there, it just happens I'm secretary of defense now.

(Laughter.)

There's nothing magical about me, but I do believe it's a huge, huge issue that we have to fix. We cannot -- we can be an institution that the American people want to put our people, we expect, on the inside when they join the military, that they're protected and they can count on the military.

So it starts there, and all our leaders are committed to it just like I am. But it has to go down to every level of leadership in our military, everywhere.
Q: Thank you sir.

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.

Q: Thank you again.

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