Military News

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Army Adding Legal Experts to Combat Sexual Assault, Harassment

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

Jan. 27, 2009 - Army Secretary Pete Geren has approved adding legal personnel to help combat sexual assault among soldiers, which he deemed "repugnant to the core values" of the Army. The Army's Judge Advocate General Corps, or JAG, is expected to hire 15 new prosecutors and a dozen trainers with prosecution or sexual assault litigation expertise in an effort to prevent and more effectively prosecute sexual assault and harassment.

"We see the crime of sexual assault as a crime that goes beyond just the criminal act," Geren told reporters yesterday during an Army roundtable at the Pentagon. "We see it as a crime that destroys unit cohesion."

In addition, the Army Criminal Investigation Command also aims to hire 30 special investigators to focus on sexual assault and harassment cases.

"Our special agents, and supervisors, will be working shoulder-to-shoulder with those highly qualified experts on our most challenging and complex cases," Army Brig. Gen. Rodney Johnson, head of the Criminal Investigation Command, said.

The influx of legal staff represents what Geren described as a three-pronged approach to rooting out sexual assault, a strategy that also includes encouraging soldiers to step up preventative measures and an Army education campaign.

On the prevention side, soldiers are encouraged to participate in "bystander intervention," which hinges on the idea that each Army member has a moral duty to protect a fellow soldier being harassed or assaulted.

To increase awareness about the problem, Army commanders will receive sexual assault prevention kits comprising DVDs, posters and other relevant information to disseminate among soldiers.

The renewed vigor in tackling the problem aims to increase soldiers' confidence and trust in the system, Geren said.

The secretary said 1,800 soldiers have been punished for sexual assault since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Of the 9,000 crimes investigated by the Army last year, 15 percent were sexual assaults, with 137 cases going to criminal trial, Johnson said.

Lt. Gen. Michael D. Rochelle, the Army's deputy chief of staff, said sexual assault was the most underreported crime worldwide. Roughly one third of female victims in the Army report abuse, compared to 18 percent of civilian women, he said.

Geren said the Army hopes to become the leader in preventing and prosecuting sexual assault, much in the way it has become a paragon of equal opportunity employment.

"We're hopeful that in a few years we'll look back on this and see that we've made major steps towards accomplishing these goals," he said.

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