Pentagon group developing another sexual assault report

The Defense Department has asked a committee that advises top Pentagon officials on policies relating to women in the military to investigate the sexual assault issue and provide recommendations on what to do about it, drawing criticism from an advocacy group for victims of sexual misconduct.

The 13-member Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Services will release its report in January, but officials at the Miles Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides services to victims of violence associated with the military, questioned the need for another report.

"It's a good thing that they're studying it, but over the last two decades, there have been more than 20 studies done on the topic.…there needs to be action taken on all these studies rather than a continuation of studies, conferences and summits," said Miles Foundation spokeswoman Anita Sanchez. The foundation is pushing for a comprehensive bill in Congress to make sweeping changes to the Pentagon's sexual harassment and assault policies.

Sanchez said the failure of the Pentagon to come up with a definition of sexual assault is the biggest problem. "You have federal statutes and you have state statutes that have been replaced and reformed to meet the changes in our society and that can easily be adapted within the military community," Sanchez said.

Senior Pentagon leaders will start meeting Wednesday to discuss future policy on sexual misconduct as a result of last month's closed-door conference where department officials discussed the findings of the an earlier task force. According to commission spokesman Lt. Col. Joe Richard, the findings will be made public.

The committee's final report likely will reinforce the 114-page report issued by the earlier task force, according to retired Lt. Gen. Carol Mutter, chairwoman of the committee, who added, "We may find a new wrinkle here or there."

David Chu, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, asked the advisory committee to study sexual assault and it's "obviously an issue on everybody's front-burner," Mutter said.

According to Mutter, Washington resident and advisory committee member Rosalie Silberman is leading the working group that will examine the focus group results on sexual assault and prepare the section of the report dealing with sexual assault.

A draft of the committee's findings contains many anonymous quotes from service members. Mutter said this helped humanize the report and takes the focus away from statistics.

"We find that people talk to us about things they don't talk to people in the military about," said Mutter. "I have not seen any indication of [the military] trying to sweep things under the rug."

The draft report reveals that the fear of repercussions is a major barrier to women reporting sexual assault. "I think folks understand what…outlets are there. But in a military environment, where you get punished for not sharpening pencils correctly, huge repercussions await," said a senior male officer, quoted in a preliminary analysis of focus group results.

The analysis indicated that focus group participants who spoke positively about their unit's leadership also said their leaders created an "open- door policy at all times," but dissatisfied participants felt their leaders were out of touch with subordinates.

The focus groups were made up of military personnel ranging from junior enlisted personnel to senior officers and conducted by committee members during 14 military bases visits this year. Of the 70 focus groups, three at each base were composed of women, one of men and one of family members.

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