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Military Personnel: DOD's and the Coast Guard's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Programs Face Implementation and Oversight Challenges.

GAO-08-924 August 29, 2008

In 2004, Congress directed the Department of Defense (DOD) to establish a comprehensive policy to prevent and respond to sexual assaults involving servicemembers. Though not required to do so, the Coast Guard has established a similar policy. In response to congressional requests and Senate Report No. 110-77, GAO evaluated the extent to which DOD and the Coast Guard (1) have developed and implemented policies and programs to prevent, respond to, and resolve sexual assault incidents involving servicemembers; (2) have visibility over reports of sexual assault involving servicemembers; and (3) exercise oversight over reports of sexual assault involving servicemembers. To conduct this review, GAO reviewed legislative requirements and DOD and Coast Guard guidance; analyzed sexual assault incident data; and obtained through surveys and interviews the perspective on sexual assault matters of more than 3,900 servicemembers.

DOD and the Coast Guard have established polices and programs to prevent, respond to, and resolve reported sexual assault incidents involving servicemembers; however, implementation of the programs is hindered by several factors. GAO found that (1) DOD's guidance may not adequately address some important issues, such as how to implement its program in deployed and joint environments; (2) most, but not all, commanders support the programs; (3) required sexual assault prevention and response training is not consistently effective; and (4) factors such as a DOD-reported shortage of mental health care providers affect whether servicemembers who are victims of sexual assault can or do access mental health services. Left unchecked, these challenges can discourage or prevent some servicemembers from using the programs when needed. GAO found, based on responses to its nongeneralizable survey administered to 3,750 servicemembers stationed at military installations in the United States and overseas and a 2006 DOD survey, the most recent available, that occurrences of sexual assault may be exceeding the rates being reported, suggesting that DOD and the Coast Guard have only limited visibility over the incidence of these occurrences. At the 14 installations where GAO administered its survey, 103 servicemembers indicated that they had been sexually assaulted within the preceding 12 months. Of these, 52 servicemembers indicated that they did not report the sexual assault. GAO also found that factors that discourage servicemembers from reporting a sexual assault include the belief that nothing would be done; fear of ostracism, harassment, or ridicule; and concern that peers would gossip. Although DOD has established some mechanisms for overseeing reports of sexual assault, and the Coast Guard is beginning to do so, neither has developed an oversight framework--including clear objectives, milestones, performance measures, and criteria for measuring progress--to guide its efforts. In compliance with statutory requirements, DOD reports data on sexual assault incidents involving servicemembers to Congress annually. However, DOD's report does not include some data that would aid congressional oversight, such as why some sexual assaults could not be substantiated following an investigation. Further, the military services have not provided data that would facilitate oversight and enable DOD to conduct trend analyses. While the Coast Guard voluntarily provides data to DOD for inclusion in its report, this information is not provided to Congress because there is no requirement to do so. To provide further oversight of DOD's programs, Congress, in 2004, directed the Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services to conduct an examination of matters relating to sexual assault in the Armed Forces. However, as of July 2008, the task force had not yet begun its review. Without an oversight framework, as well as more complete data, decision makers in DOD, the Coast Guard, and Congress lack information they need to evaluate the effectiveness of the programs.

Categories: National Defense, Accountability, Coast Guard personnel, Crime victims, Data collection, Data integrity, Interagency relations, Mental health care services, Military forces, Military personnel, Military training, Policy evaluation, Program evaluation, Program management, Reporting requirements, Sex crimes, Sexual abuse, Sexual harassment, Surveys, Training utilization
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Publication:General Accounting Office Reports & Testimony
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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