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Sexual Harassment/Assault/Trauma News

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Biden Implements Sweeping Changes to How the Military Handles Sexual Assault Cases

Sunday, July 30, 2023 | Category: Sexual Harassment/Assault/Trauma - ME

On July 28, 2023, NPR’s Bill Chappell reported:

President Biden signed an executive order Friday implementing sweeping changes to the military justice system's handling of sexual assault cases. The reforms, which won bipartisan approval in Congress, remove serious criminal cases from victims' chain of command and instead place the cases under the authority of trained prosecutors.

"Sexual assault cases in the military have been plagued with concerns from victims who fear coming forward to see prosecutions led by their own commander," as NPR reported last December. "Overall, a very low share of such cases go to trial or see convictions."

House passes defense bill that includes proposal to combat sexual assault in military
House passes defense bill that includes proposal to combat sexual assault in military
The reform effort was led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who has long pushed for changes in how the U.S. military handles sexual assault cases as well as other serious crimes, including domestic violence, child abuse and murder.

It had been up to commanding officers to decide whether to prosecute such cases. But military prosecutors will now make those decisions, rather than commanders.

"While it will take time to see the results of these changes, these measures will instill more trust, professionalism, and confidence in the system," Gillibrand said in a statement sent to NPR.

White House Briefing Room Statement: President Biden Signs Historic Military Sexual Assault Reforms

Sunday, July 30, 2023 | Category: Sexual Harassment/Assault/Trauma - ME

FACT SHEET: President Biden to Sign Executive Order Implementing Bipartisan Military Justice Reforms

July 28, 2023

The White House

Today, President Biden will sign an Executive Order to implement historic, bipartisan military justice reforms that significantly strengthen how the military handles sexual assault cases. The Executive Order transfers key decision-making authorities from commanders to specialized, independent military prosecutors in cases of sexual assault, domestic violence, murder, and other serious offenses by amending the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

These changes, which implement reforms passed by Congress in the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (FY22 NDAA), represent the most significant transformation of the military justice system since the UCMJ was established in 1950. The historic reforms announced today will better protect victims and ensure prosecutorial decisions are fully independent from the chain of the command. They follow decades of tireless efforts by survivors, advocates, and Members of Congress, to strengthen the military justice system’s response to gender-based violence and build on recommendations from the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military (IRC), which Secretary Austin established at President Biden’s direction as one of his earliest acts in office.

These reforms are a turning point for survivors of gender-based violence in the military. They fulfill President Biden’s promise to fundamentally shift how the military justice system responds to sexual assault and related crimes, which is something President Biden has prioritized since Day One of this administration. Ending gender-based violence wherever it occurs has been a top priority for the President throughout his career—as a Senator, and as Vice President. As Commander in Chief, he’s made clear that our one truly sacred obligation as a nation is to prepare and equip those we send into harm’s way, and to care for them and their families both while they are deployed and when they return home. The reforms implemented through today’s Executive Order do just that, promoting dignity and respect for those who serve by better protecting our servicemembers and making the military safer and more just.

Today’s Executive Order takes important action to reform our military justice system by amending the Manual for Courts-Martial and its accompanying Rules for Courts-Martial including by:

Establishing the rules that will govern the new Offices of Special Trial Counsel (OSTC), the independent military prosecutors who will now decide, in the place of commanders, whether to prosecute covered offenses such as sexual assault and domestic violence, child abuse, and murder;

Making clear that prosecutorial decisions made by special trial counsel are binding and fully independent from the chain of command;
Delineating the relationship and authorized interactions between special trial counsel and commanders to protect the independence of special trial counsel;

Modernizing procedures to better protect victims and promote fairness before, during and after court-martial proceedings;
Reforming the court-martial sentencing system to promote uniformity and fairness, as recommended by the IRC, to reduce disparities in sentencing in cases of rape and sexual assault; and

Creating a uniform evidence standard for non-judicial punishment actions, which the IRC highlighted as critical to make consistent across the military services given that most sexual misconduct cases are handled by nonjudicial punishment rather than courts-martial.

This month also marks two years since the IRC published its final report, outlining recommendations to improve accountability, prevention, climate and culture, and victim care and support. Today’s Executive Order advances the IRC’s core accountability recommendations and builds on the progress that has already been made by the Department of Defense in implementing the IRC’s more than 80 recommendations, including:

Establishing the Offices of Special Trial Counsel. In July 2022, with direction from Secretary Austin, the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force, including the Space Force, established and staffed their OSTCs to assume authority for prosecutorial decisions for covered offenses including sexual assault and domestic violence at the end of 2023. Beginning January 1, 2025, special trial counsel prosecutorial authority will expand to include sexual harassment cases.

Hiring, Training, and Empowering the Prevention Workforce. Consistent with the IRC’s recommendation to establish a dedicated prevention workforce with public health expertise, the Department of Defense launched a phased approach to hiring a primary prevention workforce with 2,000 skilled professionals who will promote the health of their military community and work with leaders to change policies and implement prevention activities. In December 2022, the Department of Defense released guidance for this new workforce, and hiring and onboarding is underway at installations around the world.

Strengthening and Professionalizing the Sexual Assault Response Workforce. The Department of Defense, in collaboration with the Military Services and National Guard has adopted a comprehensive approach to restructuring, professionalizing, strengthening, and resourcing for the sexual assault response workforce. This includes moving Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARCs) and Victim Advocates (VAs) from the command reporting structure, and generally eliminating collateral duty for SARCs and VAs. This standardized approach across the Department of Defense is nearing completion.

Improving the Military’s Response to Domestic Violence and Sexual Harassment. Recognizing sexual assault can overlap with other forms of gender-based violence, the IRC recommended ways to improve accountability and support to survivors of domestic violence and sexual harassment. The Administration has:

Reissued and revised the Defense Department’s domestic abuse policy in December 2021. Key updates include expanding eligibility for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program services to domestic violence survivors who have experienced sexual assault;
Tracked the prevalence of domestic abuse/intimate partner-related sexual assault by collecting information on the victim-perpetrator relationship in the Workplace and Gender Relations Surveys of Active-Duty Members (WGRA), and Workplace and Gender Relations Surveys of Reserve Component Members (WGRR);

Expanded victim advocate services, reporting options and support to survivors of sexual harassment, through new guidance issued by the Department of Defense in September 2022. This guidance has been implemented across all Military Departments;

Starting with the Navy and the Marine Corps, issued policies for the independent investigation of sexual harassment reports, moving these investigations outside the chain of command of both the individual reporting sexual harassment and the alleged offender. The Department of Defense is working to develop a comprehensive approach to address this issue across all Military Departments; and

Amended the Manual for Courts-Martial through an Executive Order in January 2022 that established sexual harassment as a specific offense under the UCMJ, strengthening the military justice response in prosecuting cases of domestic violence, and implementing changes to the UCMJ to criminalize the wrongful broadcast or distribution of intimate visual images.

National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month of April

Saturday, April 1, 2023 | Category: Sexual Harassment/Assault/Trauma - ME

The month of April is “National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.” Sexual assault and harassment remain systemically prevalent in many institutions, including the United States military.  Long-term prevention measures are needed to effect socio-cultural attitudinal change as well as ensure safe work environments where employees can report incidences without fear of reprisal and/or retaliation.

This link includes extensive “Military Sexual Assault” and “Military Sexual Trauma’” references.

This ongoing campaign intends to raise public awareness about sexual violence in our nation and its prevalence within federal, state, public and private institutions and businesses and societal subcultures.

Report to Governor Recommends Maine National Guard Sex Assault Responses

Saturday, December 31, 2022 | Category: Sexual Harassment/Assault/Trauma - ME

Governor Janet Mills established the Advisory Council on Military Sexual Trauma as one of several responses to a Bangor Daily News series that exposed a culture on the Army side that is permissive of sexual abuse, retaliates against soldiers who come forward and drives women out of the service. Major Gen. Douglas Farnham of the Maine Guard had requested outside assistance in March 2022.

The BDN’s three-part series, “Unguarded,” tells the stories of soldiers sexually assaulted and harassed within the ranks of the Maine Army National Guard while lax enforcement of policies, little oversight, and retaliation against those who complained continued for more than a decade. See this link for related articles:

Panel to help Maine National Guard improve assault response

Saturday, December 31, 2022 | Category: Sexual Harassment/Assault/Trauma - ME

News Center Maine, March 22, 2022:

‘ Gov. Janet Mills on Thursday established a permanent advisory council to improve the Maine National Guard’s responses to sexual assault and harassment and to ensure assault survivors are connected to available resources.
The 10-member council is charged with making recommendations by Dec. 1 about how the Maine National Guard can improve its handling of assault and harassment within its ranks, with an emphasis on coordination with law enforcement authorities.’

Top military official seeks outside probe of Maine National Guard’s handling of sexual assault cases (March 2022)

Thursday, December 29, 2022 | Category: Sexual Harassment/Assault/Trauma - ME

On March 24, 2022, Callie Ferguson reported: ‘ Maine’s top military official has asked for an outside investigation of how the Maine National Guard handles sexual assault cases, Gov. Janet Mills said Thursday. She also noted: ‘ Also on Thursday, Mills, who oversees the guard as governor, signed an executive order establishing a permanent advisory council to recommend ways the guard can improve its handling of sexual assault and harassment, especially in collaboration with local law enforcement. Its first report is due to the governor on Dec. 1.’. See article and associated links for further information.

News: Protect Our Defenders

Tuesday, June 28, 2022 | Category: Sexual Harassment/Assault/Trauma - ME

The "Protect Our Defenders News Blog" posts news relative to their day-to-day work with the "women and men in uniform who have been raped or sexually assaulted by fellow service members. Protect Our Defenders seeks to fix the military training, investigation and adjudication systems related to sexual violence and harassment--systems that often re-victimize assault survivors by blaming them while failing to hold perpetrators accountable."

They work with survivors, have an in-depth understanding of military process and procedure, and respectfully work with others to promote change from within. It is their belief that "it is a human right to work and live in a safe and respectful environment and fostering this environment within the military’s ranks will make the military more effective. Whether advocating for reform, filing a legal brief, providing legal support, or coordinating peer support for survivors; each project and activity manifests POD’s core values."

Nancy Parrish, Founder & CEO, is a human rights activist, philanthropist, and investor. POD President, Don Christensen, Colonel, USAF (Ret.) served as chief prosecutor for the United States Air Force between 2010 and 2014. He served as a trial counsel, defense counsel or military judge for every year of his 23-year career in the United States Air Force. His full bio is posted on the POD site.

Conference Sparks Dialogue on Preventing Sexual Violence at Service Academies, Colleges

Thursday, April 4, 2019 | Category: Sexual Harassment/Assault/Trauma - ME

Military service secretaries and service academy superintendents along with other higher education academic leaders and experts met at the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland this week. The intent of the conference was “to find ways to prevent sexual violence and to share initiatives that have shown promise.” This “National Discussion on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at America’s Colleges, Universities, and Service Academies” is the first-ever national meeting addressing this subject. Over 300 attended, about 10 percent of the 1200 invited universities were represented.

In January 2019, the results of a survey showed a 50 percent rise in claims of sexual assault and harassment at the military service academies.

Examining the Role of the Commander in Sexual Assault

Tuesday, April 2, 2019 | Category: Sexual Harassment/Assault/Trauma - ME

On April 2, 2019, the House Armed Services Committee hosted two panels composed of military justice reform advocates, military sexual assault survivors and military Judge Advocates. Congresswoman Jackie Spier made opening remarks, noting that the number of reported sexual assaults in the military continues to rise significantly while prosecutions and convictions have decreased. The American Bar Association along with Protect Our Defenders reinforced their position that until the decision to prosecute is made by independent attorneys and not military commanders with convening authority, there will not be an impartial military justice system free of retaliation and wrongful discharges for military personnel.

National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (April 2019)

Monday, April 1, 2019 | Category: Sexual Harassment/Assault/Trauma - ME

The month of April is “National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.” It is a campaign to raise public awareness about sexual violence and educate communities on how to prevent it. In addition to the resources posted in “WomenVetsUSA Maine Events,” there are other national resources linked on the “WomenVetsUSA National Home Page News Ticker.”

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