Army unveils new sexual assault response centers after Vanessa Guillén murder

The military said on Wednesday it was launching a one-year pilot program establishing resource centers for victims of sexual assault and harassment.

The program aims to centralize a variety of resources for victims, including legal support, investigations and medical services. Previously, victims of harassment or sexual assault often faced a maze of military bureaucracy to access basic services or initiate an investigation, a process typically initiated by a meeting with their chain of command.

“The intention is that we bring together a multitude of services in one centralized location so that it is much more responsive for victims,” ​​Col. Kelly Webster, deputy director of the military task force, told reporters on Wednesday. on people first.

The centers would still report to the top management of that facility, but could empower a victim to maneuver around their immediate chain of command, which may include the abuser or supervisors who may want to protect the abuser.

“It doesn’t eliminate, but reduces the likelihood of retaliation,” Webster said.

Read more : 2 soldiers die at Fort Bragg on same day in unrelated incidents

However, the idea of ​​the military is not new.

There have been sexual assault resource centers in the past, some of which still exist. This pilot is actually a continuation of a 2014 program that established victim support centers, but they were largely starved of resources and never became commonplace on bases.

“In some places it already exists, but they didn’t look like what we’re envisioning for this pilot,” said Col. Erica Cameron, head of the military’s redesigned sexual assault prevention program. “There are additional staff. In many cases, they did not have direct support.”

Army documents provided to indicated that some of the motivations for the new centers were delays in victim services, sluggish service responsiveness, and poor communication of resources to victims.

For active duty soldiers, the program will be tested at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland; Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Irwin, California; Fort Riley, Kansas; and Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

The Army Reserve will have a small pilot program in the 99th Readiness Division headquartered at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. The National Guard will not be involved in the pilot program as the 50 states and four territories all have their own rules, as well as guards having a mishmash of different types of state and federal orders that can confuse politics.

The pilot program is one of the military’s first big changes to tackle sexual assault and harassment a year and a half after the brutal SPC murder. Vanessa Guillen.

Guillen was pummeled to death with a hammer by Spc. Aaron Robinson, who later committed suicide when law enforcement approached him to arrest him. Although investigators never concluded whether Robinson harassed her, Guill̩n previously said she was sexually harassed by another soldier Рtwice Рbut her leaders never took action.

His murder was a flashpoint throughout the Department of Defense and Congress, triggering a calculation on the failure of military leaders to protect the base.

The unresolved issue of sexual assault and harassment within the force culminated in a damning investigation in Fort Hood, Texas, in December that revealed systemic leadership failures responsible for an environment where harassment was permitted and assault soldiers, mainly women.

In a letter to the force signed Wednesday by Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth, Army Chief of Staff James McConville and Army Staff Sergeant Major Michael Grinston, the trio acknowledged that ” structural changes “are needed to reorganize policies for the prevention of sexual assault of the force in light of Guillén’s death and they need the soldiers’ feedback on the pilot program.

“Over the past year and a half, our military has embarked on an unprecedented review of how we care for people,” the trio said in a statement. “Our military needs your help and support as we test this new approach to improve our response and support to victims.”

Women remain an extreme minority in the military, accounting for only 16% of the force. Sexual assault and harassment has been on the grassroots for decades, with little evidence that leaders have put a stop to the problem.

This year, under pressure from Congress, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered an independent review of how sexual assault is handled and in June accepted all of his recommendations for reform, including removing commanders from decisions about sexual assault. prosecution for sexual assault.

However, the Pentagon said in September that it will take 2027 before its first installment of military-wide sexual assault reforms can be implemented.

“DoD’s efforts in this space will be the largest ever. No university, no major institution is on our scale,” said Assistant Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks. “We want to move fast, but we want to make sure these changes last and we build that confidence.”

Reports of sexual assault in the military rose slightly in 2020, a year in which most troops were largely stranded amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Annual data released by the Pentagon shows assaults involving troops increased 1% from 2019.

According to the report, 7,816 sexual assaults were reported.

– Steve Beynon can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @StevenBeynon.

Related: Pentagon’s first wave of sexual assault reforms will take 6 years to complete

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