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Chiefs Issue Strategic Direction To Combat Sexual Assault In US Military

Despite years of concerted efforts, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Commandant of the Coast Guard are dissatisfied with progress made in reducing sexual assault in the military, and have released strategic direction to increase the emphasis on combating the crime.

The chiefs released a "32-star" letter to commanders and leaders, titled "Strategic Direction to the Joint Force on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response," American Forces Press Service said in a statement on Tuesday. It said in the past two years, 6,350 cases of sexual assault involving U.S. defense personnel have been reported.

In what is mandatory reading for all commanders and leaders, the letter says the mission is to reduce and ultimately eliminate incidences of sexual assault, and establish an environment of mutual respect and trust, and a work place where the act is not tolerated.

They stressed that prevention and response must be emphasized in all aspects of planning, training and mission execution -- requiring actual leadership, not just a "checking-the-box" mentality.

The chiefs have been working diligently for months on the strategic direction, officials said.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld, the Vice-Chairman; Gen. Ray Odierno, Army Chief of Staff; Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, chief of naval operations; Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, Air Force Chief of Staff; Gen. James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, Chief of the National Guard Bureau and Adm. Robert Papp Jr., Commandant of the Coast Guard, signed the letter.

Evidence clearly shows gaps remain between the precepts of the Defense Department Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program and full implementation at all levels of command. The strategic direction calls on commanders to close these gaps, "by exercising the full measure of their authorities, options and resources."

The direction looks to "imbue a culture and cultivate a climate and environment that is resilient to the risks and vulnerabilities associated with sexual assault," the document says.

Rape, sexual assault, aggravated sexual contact, abusive sexual contact, forcible sodomy and attempts to commit these offenses - are defined as sexual assault crimes within DoD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program.

Commanders need to work with military lawyers to understand the legal ramifications of these crimes, the chiefs wrote, and need to communicate them to members of their units.

The letter urges Commanders to "train service members to ensure they understand, for example, that consumption of alcohol can impair the judgment of both parties and the consequences of an alcohol-related sex crime can have a significant and long-lasting impact on the victim, offender, unit cohesion and ultimately the readiness of the joint force."

The chiefs look to instill this call to action at all levels of professional military education, from recruits entering the service to general and flag officers, officials said.

Sexual assault in the military is a problem that all service members must face, the chiefs said. The top uniformed leaders have set goals for themselves, too, and spelled out their tasks in the strategic direction.

The chiefs will engage commanders, leaders and service communities worldwide to promote the health and discipline of the U.S. force. They will work with the combatant commanders to identify additional requirements that may be needed and examine how to improve sexual assault prevention in forward-deployed locations.

Also, the chiefs will work closely with the Office of the Secretary of Defense to resource the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program and will establish a quarterly executive council "dedicated to a candid and enduring dialogue designed to assess the effectiveness of operationalizing [Sexual Assault Prevention and Response] into commands across the joint force."

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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