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Congress seeks to improve military sex assault investigations

Jan. 14, 2014 - 01:27PM   |  
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Lawmakers are taking fresh aim at the problem of sexual assault in the ranks, ordering the Defense Department to move forward on recommendations made last July by the department’s own inspector general.

The $1.012 trillion omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2014 includes a provision directing the service secretaries to fully fund programs that would improve the ability of military law enforcement agencies to collect evidence and process crime scenes.

In a report released July 9, the DoD Inspector General found that more than 10 percent of the military’s criminal sex assault investigations were flawed. The IG urged the services to improve processing, supervision, collection and documentation as part of such investigations.

Lawmakers agreed, noting int he budget legislation that improvements are necessary to protect service members.

“While the military must do more to stop assaults from occurring in the first place, it also must ensure that when they do occur, assaults are investigated properly so cases may be effectively prosecuted and perpetrators held fully accountable,” states an explanatory report accompanying the legislation.

The bill also directs Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to review separation records of service members who made unrestricted reports of sexual assault and correct those records if a member was improperly discharged.

“There are concerns of reports in which mental health diagnoses were misused to administratively discharge or retaliate against victims of sexual assault. Victims of sexual assault should not be punished for reporting crimes committed against them,” the bill report states.

The IG noted that 11 percent of the investigations reviewed in 2010 had significant deficiencies.

The Pentagon estimated that in 2012, 26,000 service members experienced some type of unwanted sexual contact, ranging from unwanted touching or contact without consent to rape.

The bill also includes $25 million for the services to implement sexual assault special victims programs.

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