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Policy offers confidentiality to sexual-assault victims

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (April 18, 2005) -- A new Department of Defense policy allows sexual-assault victims to confidentially report crimes against them.

In a March memorandum to service secretaries, DOD officials directed all military branches implement restricted (confidential) reporting withing 90 days.

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The policy allows victims of sexual assault to seek care under restricted reporting procedures, without triggering an investigation or having their name, or the name of their assailant reported up through their chain of command.

Under the new policy, victims will be able to talk with the sexual assault response coordinator, a victim advocate or certain medics. In the past, only chaplains could provide confidentiality.

This ensures victims of sexual assault get the medical care, counseling and victim advocacy they need following a sexual assault, even if they are not ready to deal with the investigative and legal aspects of reporting a crime, officials said.

“As we implement this policy, training is critical … for commanders, supervisors, first responders and the entire force,” said Charlene Bradley, the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Task Force leader. “Everyone must understand the two avenues for reporting -- restricted and unrestricted -- and the importance of each to the victim and the mission.”

Many times, victims of sexual assault are not immediately ready to report what happened to them, officials said. There are perceived and real barriers to reporting that exist in society and the military -- chief among those being the perceived lack of privacy and confidentiality.

"When you deal with military victims, there are many things they consider before reporting," she said. "People are proud of being in the military, and one of the perceptions is that if the commander knows you have been sexually assaulted, he or she may think your effectiveness is reduced by that experience."

Airmen at their home station might fear reporting a sexual assault will lead co-workers, a supervisor or commander to think differently about them or even question their behavior, Ms. Bradley said. While deployed or in training, they also fear being sent home and missing out on the opportunity to complete their mission.

While the names of sexual-assault victims will be withheld from commanders under the new restricted reporting procedure, the fact a sexual assault has occurred will be provided to commanders to assist them to assess the climate and increase prevention efforts.

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