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DOD’s Sexual Assault Prevention Program still lacking, report shows

On March 31, the Department of Defense (DOD) released the findings of a 20-base evaluation report that was directed by Secretary of Defense Austin on February 26, 2021. This came after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published its own findings and recommendations on sexual assault in the military.

The GAO analyzed how the DOD had followed with and “had complied with 249 sexual assault-related statutory requirements enacted by Congress from 2004 to 2019 as well as with 30 prior GAO recommendations, finding that “DOD has made progress in addressing some of the recommendations, but sustained leadership is needed to ensure that the remainder of these recommendations are addressed.”

Of the 249 statutory requirements, 191 were still in force as of the enactment of the “2019 National Defense Authorization Act” (NDAA). If you are wondering what about the requirements set forth in the 2022 NDAA, don’t sweat because the DOD still has time to work on that.

Now to the DOD report, they evaluated 20 installations based on a service wide climate survey. This 311-page report revealed many things. The most notable detail is “At the ground level, there is a pervasive misunderstanding of what prevention is, how to do it, and what it takes to do it well. The lack of understanding manifests itself distinctly and at different levels.”

1200px Seal of the United States Government Accountability Office.svgAnother statement summed it up pretty well “Policy compliance does not necessarily translate into policy and program effectiveness.”

Personally, this finding could not be truer, it can easily explain how the military can fail its people while having progressive policies and processes.

The selected overseas bases showed deficiencies in accountability and resourcing their service members with what they need. Surprisingly, the selected state National Guard had received positive marks on the evaluation. I wish they had picked more than one state and National Guard base, especially the states that have been in the media like Maine, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

They also evaluated very limited Reserve units and persons. They should have evaluated from ground up at least two Reserve divisions.

At least one Army Reserve division has also been in the media for failing its soldiers when it came to sexual assault prevention, protection, and action when it does happen, as was the case of the Fort Hood acting commander, an Army Reserve division commander who was relieved from the position.

What the DOD did well in the report is evaluate protective and risk factors of all bases within this study. They recognized that stress, passivity and toxic leadership increase risk factors all around. This may not be surprising for some, but it is encouraging that they have the data to back up what many of us have experienced in the military.

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