Military Personnel:

Prior GAO Work on DOD's Actions to Prevent and Respond to Sexual Assault in the Military

GAO-12-571R: Published: Mar 30, 2012. Publicly Released: Apr 9, 2012.

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Contact:

Randall B. Williamson
(202) 512-7114
williamsonr@gao.gov

 

Brenda S. Farrell
(202) 512-3604
farrellb@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

GAO’s prior work on sexual assault in the military has resulted in 25 recommendations on various aspects of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program. DOD concurred or partially concurred with all of GAO’s recommendations and has since begun or completed action on each of them. To date, GAO’s analysis shows that DOD has fully implemented 13 recommendations and has partially implemented the remaining 12 recommendations, which GAO will continue to monitor.

GAO’s previous work, for example, included information on how cases of sexual assault in the military are documented. In February 2010, GAO reported that DOD was not using a centralized, case-level database for documenting reported cases of sexual assault as required by law. Accordingly, we made recommendations that DOD adhere to key system development and acquisition management processes and controls in developing its database. DOD concurred with these recommendations and indicated that it expected a database to be initially operational on March 30, 2012, and fully operational by August 2012.

GAO’s previous work also included information about how cases of alleged sexual assault in the military are investigated. In June 2011, GAO reported that, absent DOD-level guidance, the military services have developed and implemented their own guidance on sexual assault investigations and, in some cases, take different approaches to conducting their investigations. As a result, GAO recommended that DOD develop and implement a policy that specified procedures for conducting sexual assault investigations and that the services leverage each other’s resources for investigating and adjudicating alleged sexual assault incidents. The department concurred with these recommendations and is taking actions to address both of them by drafting a sexual assault investigations policy that would be applicable to the services’ military criminal investigative organizations and by taking other steps to coordinate the expertise and resources of the services’ criminal investigative organizations. Further, GAO reported that the DOD Office of the Inspector General has not worked with the military services to assess the content or the effectiveness of the sexual assault training that is provided to investigators and has not evaluated how many agents are currently meeting a minimum standard of competency. Again, in June 2011, GAO recommended that DOD develop and implement clear goals and objectives for monitoring and evaluating the services’ sexual assault investigations and related training. DOD also concurred with this recommendation and has begun evaluating the military investigative organizations’ sexual assault investigative training.

In terms of training, GAO’s previous work also included information about sexual assault prevention and response training for servicemembers. In August 2008, GAO reported that, although servicemembers received initial and annual refresher training on sexual assault prevention and response, the training was not consistently administered and had not been systematically evaluated for effectiveness by DOD. Further, GAO reported that the Office of the Secretary of Defense found that a greater level of detail was needed in policy to guide the execution of the department’s training requirements. Accordingly, GAO recommended that DOD review and evaluate its sexual assault prevention and response training programs for greater effectiveness—a recommendation that DOD has implemented.

Additionally, GAO’s previous work included information on mental health care provided to servicemembers who are sexually assaulted. In August 2008, GAO reported that program officials, such as Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, generally took steps to ensure that servicemembers who are sexually assaulted are made aware of their options for seeking mental health care and able to access it, if desired. However, there are barriers that affect access to mental health care, including a DOD-reported shortage of mental health care providers and perceptions of stigma associated with seeking care. GAO recommended that DOD systematically evaluate and develop an action plan to address any factors that may prevent or discourage servicemembers from accessing mental health services following a sexual assault. DOD concurred with this recommendation and, in response, chartered the Health Affairs Sexual Assault Task Force, which made a number of recommendations intended to improve the availability of health care.

Why GAO Did This Study

Sexual assault is a crime that has a far-reaching negative impact on individuals, families, and communities. It also has additional implications for the military services because it undermines their core values, degrades mission readiness and esprit de corps, subverts strategic goodwill, and raises financial costs. Since 2004, following a series of high-profile sexual assault cases, Congress has taken steps to address this crime in the military, including passing legislation that directed the Secretary of Defense to develop a comprehensive policy for DOD on the prevention of, and response to, sexual assaults involving members of the Armed Forces. DOD established the SAPR program in 2005 to promote prevention, encourage increased reporting of the crime, and improve response capabilities for victims.

While DOD strives to promote a culture free of sexual assault, these assaults still occur. Sexual assault victims may seek treatment at military treatment facilities (MTFs), where health care providers serve a critical role in addressing the physical and mental trauma experienced by a victim. GAO was asked to provide information about treatment for sexual assault victims at MTFs. In response to this request, GAO is providing information related to this topic based on prior work, including how cases of sexual assault are reported, documented, and investigated; how servicemembers are trained on sexual assault prevention and response; and the availability of health care for sexual assault victims. GAO reviewed DOD’s policy and guidance on the prevention of and response to sexual assault as well as DOD’s fiscal year 2010 report on sexual assault in the military (the most recent year available). GAO also reviewed its prior work on DOD’s actions to address sexual assault in the military.

For more information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604 or farrellb@gao.gov or Randall B. Williamson at (202) 512-7114 or williamsonr@gao.gov.

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