Pentagon Unveils 7 Steps to Combat Sexual Assault

Reformers say new plan still falls short of the crisis’ true source.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel discusses sexual assaults in the military on May 17, 2013, at a press conference at the Pentagon on Washington D.C.

One step includes establishing special legal counsel for victims, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said.

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New sexual assault policies the military unveiled on Thursday were met with tepid support from Congress, some of whom still criticize the Department of Defense's decision not to remove sexual assault cases from the victim's chain of command.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel unveiled seven new steps the Pentagon will adopt to address what military leaders consider a crisis within the ranks. These new steps include establishing special legal counsel for victims to navigate the military justice system and elevating oversight of each case up to the first general within the chain of command.

[ALSO: Defense Dept. Says Sexual Assault Investigations Are Inefficient]

Some sexual assault policy advocates have called for entirely removing the chain of command from oversight of crimes such as rape or assault.

"These are positive steps forward, but it is not the leap forward required to solve the problem," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., in a statement on Thursday. "As we have heard over and over again from the victims, and the top military leadership themselves, there is a lack of trust in the system that has a chilling effect on reporting."

 

"It is time for Congress to seize the opportunity, listen to the victims and create an independent, objective and non-biased military justice system worthy of our brave men and women's service," she said.

Many members of Congress applauded the Pentagon's decision to institute reforms before new laws were passed.

"I think it's wise for our military leaders to get on this train rather than get run over by it," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who along with Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., has offered a proposal that would maintain commanders' oversight but regulate their ability to abuse their authority.

[OPINION: Military Leadership Can't Solve the Problem of Sexual Assault]

"Today's announcement has little bearing on the fact that Congress will soon mandate a host of historic reforms, but it's evidence that the Defense Department is now treating this problem with the seriousness that we expect, and that survivors deserve," McCaskill added.

Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., issued similar statements Wednesday supporting the Pentagon's reforms and pointing to future legislation.

"Our legislation to provide victims with a dedicated legal counsel absolutely gets to the heart of effectively addressing the tragic epidemic of sexual assault in our military and I was pleased to see Secretary Hagel has put priority on its implementation," said Murray.

Army Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparotti, director of the Joint Staff, defended the new policies that protect all troops from repercussions for reporting crimes such as sexual assault.

"Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines know today that there are about 10 avenues for them to report," he told reporters at the Pentagon. Reports immediately go to a military investigative office or law enforcement, he says. "They know that's outside the chain of command for the unit they are in."

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Scaparotti also said the military has begun to siphon off the sale of alcohol at military facilities, due to what he calls "the very strong correlation between the use of alcohol and these crimes."

Other proposals Hagel unveiled Thursday include expanding the victims' rights, such as providing input to the post-trial action phase of court martial; the ability for each department to reassign or transfer a servicemember who is accused of committing a sexual assault or other crime; new regulations that prohibit inappropriate relations between trainers and trainees and recruiters and recruits; that judge advocates will serve as investigating officers for all Article 32 hearings; and that the Pentagon Inspector General will evaluate closed sexual assault regulations.

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