As his first directive in office, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memo asking his senior military leaders to send him reports on sexual assault prevention programs and assess which have worked and which haven’t.
Why it matters: Military leaders have grappled with a steady increase in sexual misconduct reports since 2006. The consistent trend has concerned senators, who repeatedly asked Austin how he plans to tackle this problem during his confirmation hearings, per AP.
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Austin agreed this was an urgent matter, telling senators, “This starts with me and you can count on me getting after this on Day One.”
Lawmakers have repeatedly called for action, including changes in the Code of Military Justice.
By the numbers: According to department reports, there was a 13% spike in reports in 2018 and a 3% increase in 2019.
Nate Galbreath, the acting director of the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said the increase in reports suggests that more people were willing to come forward, therefore gaining confidence in the justice system.
Last April he also stated that he was cautiously optimistic that the lower increase in 2019 reports suggested a trend in declining assaults.
Where it stands: Last year officials announced a new system in which any victim who refuses to file a public criminal report can provide details about their alleged attacker so investigators can evaluate if they have been involved in other crimes.
What’s next: Austin plans to host a meeting on the matter with senior leaders in the coming days.
Each leader is to submit a summary of the sexual assault and harassment measures they have taken in the last year and evaluate which ones show promise and which don’t.
Austin also asked for relevant data for the past decade, including efforts to support victims.
He also stated in his memo, “Include in your report the consideration of novel approaches to any of these areas,” adding, “we must not be afraid to get creative.”
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