Defense Secretary Leon Panetta addresses controversy regarding military sexual assaults

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Yesterday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the implementation of  new steps and sanctions to address sexual assault in the military. In recent weeks, attention has been drawn to increased rates of sexual violence in the military, especially at military academies:

The Defense Department’s “Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies” for academic year 2010-2011 found there were 65 reports of sexual assault involving cadets and midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy. That was up from 41 reports of sexual assaults in the prior academic year. – CBS News

Additionally, a recent CNN report exposed how the military has been inappropriately addressing victims who come forward, labeling them with “personality disorders”, leading to their immediate discharge from the military.

In the military’s eyes, a personality disorder diagnosis is a pre-existing condition and does not constitute a service-related disability. That means sexual assault victims with personality disorder discharges don’t receive benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs to help with their trauma. They can still apply for benefits, but it’s considered an uphill battle. – CNN

This is not the first time the military has been accused of inadequate responses to victims. In November 2011, MSNBC reported the 14 current and former members of the U.S. military bringing a lawsuit forward filed stating that the Pentagon turned a “blind eye” when they reported being sexually harassed, assaulted and raped by fellow service members.

Panetta’s latest comment on the re-energized effort to handle military sexual assault:

“This is a strong package. It is essential, we believe, to being able to prevent and respond to the crime of sexual assault,” Panetta said. “There’s no silver bullet when it comes to this issue. But what is required is that everyone, from the secretary to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs all the way down, every command level, be sensitive to this issue, be aware that they bear the responsibility to take action on these cases. The most important thing we can do is prosecute the offenders.” – CBS News

In addition to supporting victims, there seems to be a huge opportunity to do primary prevention and systems change work to create a culture shift within the military. There are some programs that have been implemented but are not frequently talked about, such as the I.AM.STRONG campaign and Hurts One. Affects All. 

What strategies have you used or seen on military bases to prevent sexual assault?

Alexis Marbach

Alexis Marbach joined CALCASA in July 2011 and is currently the Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator in the Prevention Department and a Public Policy Advocate. She has been working in the field of sexual violence prevention since 2002 as a prevention educator, group facilitator, and researcher. Alexis is committed to developing and promoting comprehensive, culturally competent primary prevention initiatives to reduce sexual violence.

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