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Sexual assault: new reporting policy.

VICTIMS of sexual assault may now seek medical care, counseling and support without triggering an investigation.

A new Department of Defense policy for confidential, restricted reporting protects victims not ready or willing to face the criminal investigation process, but who need medical treatment and counseling.

"Although the department would prefer complete reporting of sexual assaults to activate both victim services and accountability actions, we believe our first priority needs to be for victims to be protected, to have them treated with dignity and respect, and to receive the medical treatment, care and counseling that they deserve," said David Chu, the undersecretary of defense for policy and readiness.

To use the new restricted-reporting option, victims should contact the sexual-assault response coordinator at their local Army Community Service offices, their healthcare providers or chaplains. Upon notification of an assault, the SARC will assign a victim advocate to guide the victim through treatment. Victims who pursue official investigations through unrestricted reporting will also be paired with victim advocates.

Advocates provide information on restricted reporting versus unrestricted reporting, thus helping victims make more informed decisions about participating in an investigation.

"The advocate is an outsider, someone outside of the victim's organization, who will sit down and discuss options with the victim. Although we encourage victims to report as we discuss their options, we do not force them to report. This is something we take very seriously," said COL Paris Mack, chief of Human Factors Division, Human Resources and Policy Directorate.

Leaders hope that allowing confidentiality will give victims confidence that their commands care about their needs and that appropriate agencies will conduct fair investigations.

"Victims may ask themselves, 'Is anyone going to believe me because I was intoxicated or because I was at the wrong place at the wrong time?' They may feel ashamed or embarrassed," Mack said. "Hopefully, more people will start to have faith in their commands and want to come forward."

The new policy will help commanders discover how frequently sexual assault occurs in their units, as SARCs must notify them of incidents within their commands. Commanders will not learn details that could identify victims, but will receive enough information to enhance training and prevent threats to the health or safety of others.

The former policy required victims who sought medical help and counseling to also endure an official investigation. While this led to many victims going without treatment, it also left leaders in the dark about how frequently sexual assaults occurred within their ranks.

The policy memorandum was released March 16, but did not become effective until June 16 to allow specialized training for commanders, senior enlisted advisers, investigators, healthcare providers and others involved in responding to sexual assault.

DOD defines sexual assault as "intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, physical threat or abuse of authority, or when the victim does not or cannot consent. Sexual assault includes rape, nonconsensual sodomy (oral or anal sex), indecent assault (unwanted, inappropriate sexual contact or fondling), or attempts to commit these acts. Sexual assault can occur without regard to gender or spousal relationship or age of victim."
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Author:Reece, Beth
Publication:Soldiers Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2005
Words:516
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