By Rick Maze
The Defense Department could take a leap forward in its sexual assault prevention programs this summer with the planned deployment of an all-service database to track the names of victims and alleged offenders, the nature of the assaults, and the outcomes, if any, of legal proceedings.
This will require the services to take a more uniform approach to issues such as handling evidence and conflicting testimony, and also will provide a better look at the scope of the sexual assault problem across all of the services.
A Government Accountability Office report, dated March 30 but released April 10, updates lawmakers on 25 recommendations made by the congressional watchdog group since 2005 for improvements in sexual assault prevention programs.
One bit of progress: The Defense Department has prepared a defense-wide policy for criminal investigative organizations so that all will use the same basic processes and rules for collecting and using evidence. The policy also calls for the services to share resources in both investigating and prosecuting sexual crimes.
Congress mandated a defense-wide database of sexual assaults in 2008, but a joint-service system won’t be fully operational until August, according to the report.
The services generally define sexual assault in the same way, but until now, they have had their own approaches for undertaking investigations, retaining evidence and keeping records. Having everyone record crimes in the same way lets the services compare which may be more successful with sexual assault prevention programs.
The report was provided to Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., who has led a bipartisan group of lawmakers pushing the Defense Department to do more to address sexual assault in the ranks.
Slaughter has sponsored legislation to require expanded legal training for judge advocates involved in the investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults, and to make conversations that a sexual assault victim had with a victims’ advocate or health care professional confidential, meaning they could not be used in legal proceedings.
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