WASHINGTON, April 2, 2012 – The Defense Department has refined new methods to aid sexual assault victims whether reporting a crime or seeking assistance as they transition from service, the director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office said here March 30.
“We have several new options for victims of sexual assault,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Mary Kay Hertog. “First, if you’ve been a victim of sexual assault in the military you now have the option of requesting an expedited transfer. We signed that into effect in December.”
“If you find it untenable or unbearable in the organization that you’re at … you can request to be transferred,” she added.
Hertog said a service member’s local commander has 72 hours to respond to the request for transfer, and if denied there is an option to take it to the first flag or general officer in the chain of command who also has 72 hours to respond.
“We also have a new document retention initiative,” she said. “We heard loud and clear from our veterans that present themselves at the [Department of Veterans Affairs] years later that there was no documentation that they had ever been sexually assaulted [during] their military service.”
The issue arose, Hertog said, because varying standards of retention had existed among all of the services but has since been resolved.
“We now have one standard of retention so those individuals that file unrestricted reports will have their documents retained for 50 years,” she said.
“And those that file restricted reports will have their documents retained for five years,” Hertog said. “And of course our victims of sexual assault who file restricted reports have that option to convert over to unrestricted reports at any time and then we will retain their documents for that 50-year period.”
The director also discussed other innovations such as expanding legal assistance to encourage victims to participate in the military justice system “in order to hold that perpetrator accountable.”
And as of January, DOD civilians and contractors deployed abroad, and military dependents over 18 years old are now eligible to access sexual assault response services, Hertog said.
Hertog noted other changes implemented include new training for investigators of sexual assault crimes within the services.
“Some of our new training initiatives concern our investigators such as our [Naval Criminal Investigative Service] agents, Air Force [Office of Special Investigations], and Army [Criminal Investigation Division],” she said. “We think we have found the gold standard course … to send many of the agents to, to build a sexual assault subject expertise cadre of our agents to get them very familiar with these cases.”
Hertog said training frequency will increase, more seats will be offered and the training has expanded to include Judge Advocate Generals “because these are some of the toughest cases to investigate as well as prosecute.”
Perhaps the most useful option has been established for about a year, Hertog noted.
“You have the option of contacting our DOD Safe helpline,” she said. “We stood up a 24/7 crisis hotline — it’s operated by RAINN, the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network — who have been trained by us so they’re very familiar with military terminology.”
“If you don’t want to go through your chain of command you can contact them and they will tell you where your nearest rape crisis center is in your community outside your installation gates,” Hertog said.
Hertog said the hotline has been “extremely successful” with about 30,000 unique visits to the site and about 2,500 referrals for counseling services.
She emphasized the Defense Department’s commitment to “eradicating” sexual assault in the military “from the Secretary [of Defense] on down.
“We have to eliminate this problem from our ranks,” Hertog added. “The American public gives us what’s most dear to them and that’s their sons and daughters. And they trust us that we’re going to take care of them [which] is a commander’s job.”