WASHINGTON – New proposals by a Pentagon (search) task force to help military victims of sexual assault fall far short of what is necessary, the head of a victims support group said Monday.
"The decades of indifference to victims and survivors of sexual assault within the U.S. Armed Forces was confirmed, once again," said Christine Hansen, executive director of The Miles Foundation (search), in a statement issued by the Connecticut-based group.
It was the Miles Foundation, citing victims it had spoken with, that first raised concerns in press reports about a spate of assaults on women serving in Iraq (search) and Kuwait.
The Pentagon released a report last week acknowledging problems in preventing, treating and investigating sexual assaults on military personnel.
The task force that wrote the report recommended a series of primarily administrative changes that are aimed at increasing awareness throughout the ranks of how to respond, both medically and judicially, when a military woman reports being assaulted.
It also recommended an effort to focus on the problem at upcoming conferences, as well as more victims' advocates trained to assist those who report assaults.
That's not enough, Hansen said. She called for changes in military law to mirror civilian sexual assault laws; the creation of a network of military victims' advocates with a chain of command; and other changes.
"The report does not recommend development of an infrastructure and foundation of law and policy to sufficiently address sexual assault among the ranks," Hansen said.
David Chu, the undersecretary of defense for personnel, said last week that some early changes recommended by the report were being implemented.
"We can and should improve our response should sexual assault occur, but once it occurs, a tragedy has happened and people are damaged," Chu said. "Many, if not most, of these women leave the service as a result of these incidents, and that loses us a highly trained, motivated individual, and that is indeed a loss to the nation."
The study was initiated by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in response to media reports about sexual assaults in Iraq and Kuwait (search). In almost all the cases, male U.S. troops were reported assaulting female service members.
The military received 94 reports of sexual assault in 2003 from soldiers in the region that includes Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. It received 24 reports from that region in 2002.
Chu attributed the increase to the massive increase of U.S. service members sent to the region for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. He said the rate was consistent with the rate reported throughout the military.
Officials acknowledged the actual number was probably much higher, as victims often decline to report sexual assaults.
Rumsfeld will meet with senior commanders at the end of the month to discuss the report and implementation of the task force recommendations, defense officials said.