Preventing Sexual Assault

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"This type of act not only does unconscionable harm to the victim; it destabilizes the workplace and threatens national security. The department has a no-tolerance policy toward sexual assault. "

--Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates

ARMY law enforcement officers have a message for sexual offenders: watch out because we're coming for you.

According to Russell W. Strand, the chief of the Family Advocacy Law Enforcement Training Division at the U.S. Army Military Police School, and one of the Army's top sexual assault experts, military police officers and Criminal Investigation Command agents undergo comprehensive, highly specialized training to handle sexual assault cases.

In addition to offering a two-week special victims unit course and two-day refresher training at USAMPS, CID brought on 27 civilian special investigators in 2009. They have extensive backgrounds in investigating sexual assaults and are assigned to the installations that have the highest rates of those cases--training posts like Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and large installations like Fort Hood, Texas--and several are even deployed.

Strand, a retired CID agent and former MP, pointed out that unlike most civilian police officers and detectives, military police and CID special agents can't pick their cases.

If a victim wants to make a report, agents must document and investigate it, whether or not the case ever makes it to trial. This, Strand explained, is part of the reason that, on paper, the Army's sexual assault rates may appear high.

"If (a civilian detective) determines, in their own mind, that this isn't a real rape complaint, it's not going to hit any document, anywhere, and therefore it doesn't enter into their statistics. So it's really difficult to compare us with them because they might even show higher conviction rates, but it's filtered out at a much lower level. If we take every report that comes into us and document them, they're going to look like they have much higher conviction rates. The detective is only going to take a case at the beginning that he thinks, or she thinks, they're going to be able to prove. We take them whether we can prove them or not," Strand said.

The Army, he added, is also mostly made up of a subset of the population that traditionally has the highest rates of sexual assault, child abuse and domestic violence.

If anything, colleges and universities have a bigger problem, he explained, and those institutions try to solve sexual assault cases with student misconduct boards instead of education and leadership. Strand said one expert from academia told him how embarrassed he was at how they've been handling sexual assaults versus the Army's prevention programs.

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In fact, Strand views the Army's rising sexual assault rates as a positive sign, because that means that more victims are coming forward rather than remaining silent. The resulting attention has also led to increased resources for education and training.

"Fortunately, (sexual assault) has come to the attention of Congress, of the media, of everything else, primarily because of our deployed mission," he said. "I think the chief of staff of the Army, Gen. (George W.) Casey (Jr.), articulates it very well: A Soldier has a better chance of being sexually assaulted than being shot or killed by the enemy.

"This is the last place we want a sexual offender to be, is (in) the Army. So as a result of some of the sexual assaults that have occurred overseas during deployments, we've been able to build a program since 2005 that I believe is second-to-none in the world." Strand added that his--and Army leadership's--goal is for the Army to lead the nation in handling sexual assault cases.

One of the biggest challenges is communicating to potential victims, potential offenders and leaders that they won't be able to guess who might or might not be a sexual offender or victim. …