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Army striving to decrease sexual assault, increase reporting

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Jan. 27, 2009) -- Through its Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention and Response Program, the Army hopes to change command climates to make victims of sexual assault feel more comfortable reporting the crime.

During a meeting with members of the press Jan. 26, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren discussed the Army's efforts to reduce sexual assault within the ranks, a crime he said that is not just an assault on a person, but on the whole Army.

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"Since Sept. 11, 2001, we've had 1,800 Soldiers that have been punished for sexually assaulting a fellow Soldier," Geren said. "Soldier-on-Soldier violence, blue-on-blue -- sexual assault is a crime everywhere, but in the Army it is a crime that is more than just a crime against the victim. In the Army it is a crime against the core values that bind our Army together."

Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes in the United States and in the Army as well, said Carolyn Collins, program manager of the Army's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program. Through the SAPR program, the Army hopes to change the cultural climate so Soldiers who are victims of sexual assault will be more likely to report the crime.

"The last couple of years we have seen a bit of a plateau in the reporting, but ... we are certainly still having convictions of sexual assault," Collins said. "We know we are not where we want to be yet. We are looking to increase our propensity to report, and bring down the actual number of assaults. We are looking to close that gap. We want to raise the number of reports so we can get more investigated, and hold offenders accountable for those actions, and we want to reduce the number."

The Army is also doing more to ensure that when Soldiers report a sexual assault, the crime is properly investigated and prosecuted.

Secretary Geren has approved funding to provide 15 special victim prosecutors -- that's additional personnel billets within the judge advocate general corps that will be filled from within the ranks by those that have proven themselves as especially effective prosecutors and who also have experience in sexual assault prosecution.

"They will focus exclusively on those cases, and on training the balance of our prosecutorial and defense force on those kinds of cases," said Maj. Gen. Scott Black, judge advocate general of the U.S. Army. "They will have previous experience, and special training as well. The idea is to pick people who are ... very very good in the prosecutorial function, and then ... have experience in this particular area of prosecution. We are identifying them now."

Black said those special prosecutors would come from the JAG ranks, would serve for a minimum of three-year tours, and would be positioned at installations such as Fort Bragg, N.C. and Fort Hood, Texas, where there are large concentrations of Soldiers.

Brig. Gen. Rodney Johnson, the provost marshal general of the Army, said the service will add an additional 30 special investigators to be assigned at 22 of the Army's largest installations to assist Criminal Investigation Command agents in investigating sexual assault crimes.

Those investigators, Johnson said, would provide insight into how civilian juries look at sexual assault cases and what kinds of evidence are needed to prosecute. The investigators would also look at sexual predator and victim behavior and the scientific perspective of sexual assault investigation.

An additional seven "highly qualified experts" are also coming aboard, Johnson said, to provide training and assistance to CID agents.

"We in CID already have highly skilled agents investigating these crimes," Johnson said. "But bringing the civilian expertise onboard will simply be a valuable tool to glean insight and a fresh perspective in many areas. Our special agents and supervisors will be working shoulder-to-shoulder with those highly qualified experts on our most challenging and complex cases."

Black said there are already four of those experts on board, with the remaining to be brought in by mid-February.

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