Because sexual assault and sexual harassment are serious issues, the military has taken steps to mitigate the problem.
Sexual assault involves physical sexual contact and is commonly referred as rape or sexual battery; Sexual harassment typically involves non-physical contact and can include unwanted sexual advances or comments, offensive remarks of a sexual nature, or offensive comments about a person’s sex.
According to the Psychological Health Center of Excellence, in fiscal year 2019, there were 7,825 reports of sexual assault that included servicemembers who were either victims or perpetuators.
The Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Policy cites two types of reporting: restricted and unrestricted. In both types of reports, military victims work with a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator who assists them with emergency medical services, resources and support.
Unrestricted reporting permits both the command and law enforcement to be notified of a sexual assault while restricted reporting is kept confidential. With restricted reporting sexual assault victims can have access to healthcare, advocacy services, and other services, but it prohibits notifying the victim’s command or law enforcement of the incident.
In a restricted report, victims of sexual assault cannot receive a military protection order or file an expedited transfer request. And suspects are not held accountable. On the other hand, an unrestricted report permits the assailant to be prosecuted. An official investigation will take place, the victim can request a military protection order and an expedited transfer to a different unit. The victim also gains access to a special victim’s legal counsel.
There has been a 22% increase in the number of unrestricted sexual assault reports filed since 2015, which offers the opportunity for increased prosecutions. According to Protect Our Defenders, which collects data from the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, over 76% of victims decided not to report the crime during fiscal year 2018. This figure reflects the importance of encouraging victims to their report sexual assault or harassment.
Nate Galbreath, the deputy director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, testified before the House Armed Services Committee in July 2020, that sexual assault in the military has decreased by more than a third in the past 14 years and that “reporting of sexual assault is four times what it was in 2006.” This is a positive trend in terms of reporting sexual assaults in the military.
The military uses awareness training, among others, to mitigate sexual assault and harassment. Helping servicemembers understand that there are effective resources and protocols available to them. It is essential to encourage more victims to come forward about their experiences.
The Army SHARP program, which stands for Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, promotes a culture of change across the Army that encourages soldiers to intervene in sexual assault and harassment cases to protect one another. The goals of the SHARP program are to:
- Reduce the stigma of reporting sexual assault or harassment
- Provide protections for victims
- Expand prevention and prosecutions
- Improve training and resources for soldiers
Mitigating sexual assault and harassment in the military requires continued attention and awareness. Servicemembers who have been victims of sexual assault or harassment can contact the DoD Safe Helpline at 877-995-5247.