The Department of Defense is taking a multi-pronged approach to combatting sexual assault in the military. One initiative – the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military – is reaching out to service members, Veterans, experts and survivors to get it right.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III made it clear that the Defense Department will put “all options on the table” to prevent sexual assault and harassment in the military. In his first order to the force, he doubled-down on the department’s commitment.
“Every member of the total force deserves a workplace free of sexual assault and harassment and personal fear. We must commit ourselves to eliminating these attacks on our own people,” Austin wrote in the memo. “I know you have worked this problem for many years. We simply must admit the hard truth: We must do more. All of us.”
Soon after, he directed several immediate actions, including the establishment the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military (IRC) to inform bold action to prevent sexual assault and harassment in the ranks.
The commission is led by former White House advisor on violence against women and a long-term advocate for survivors of gender violence, Lynn Rosenthal. The commission convened March 24 to construct recommendations on four priority issues including accountability; prevention; climate and culture; and victim care and support. Through a multi-stakeholder, cross-disciplinary approach, the IRC is developing recommendations to the defense secretary that will generate the best outcomes to instill confidence in the military’s handling of sexual assault and harassment cases. To best do that, the IRC is listening. They are listening to military service members. They are listening to military Veterans. They are listening to medical, legal and prevention experts. They are listening to survivors.
“One of the hardest things to hear when you listen to survivors talk is how hostility was conveyed by their attackers… that [the] approach to the victim was ‘You don’t belong here, you don’t belong in this military. No one will believe you if you talk about what happened, and you will be blamed,’” Rosenthal said. “This commission says to that service member – You do belong in this military. You belong. And it’s our job to make this climate safe for you to be here.”
To gather feedback, the IRC is holding discussion groups at military installations around the world, as well as online. Survivors, Veterans, active duty service members and family members are also invited to anonymously share their experiences regarding sexual assault and harassment through Safe Help’s online feedback form. Responses will inform recommendations for DOD policy and program updates.
The IRC’s recommendations will be compiled, deliberated and referred by the IRC Chair and twelve subject matter experts, including current and retired military members. This deliberative body is supported by more than 50 consultative working group and support group members to provide a holistic view with viable recommendations to drive DOD’s goal of preventing sexual misconduct. Recommendations will be provided to the defense secretary in late June.
Navy Cmdr. Candice Tresch is a spokesperson for the Defense Department.