Military Personnel: Preliminary Observations on DOD's and the Coast Guard's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Programs Page: 2 of 25
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Accountability. Integrity. Reliability
Highlights of GAO-08-1013T, a testimony
before the Subcommittee on National
Security and Foreign Affairs, Committee
on Oversight and Government Reform,
House of Representatives
Why GAO Did This Study
In 2004, Congress directed the
Department of Defense (DOD) to
establish a comprehensive policy to
prevent and respond to sexual
assaults involving servicemembers.
Though not required to do so, the
Coast Guard has established a
similar program. This statement
addresses the extent to which DOD
and the Coast Guard (1) have
developed and implemented
policies and programs to prevent,
respond to, and resolve sexual
assault incidents involving
servicemembers; (2) have visibility
over reports of sexual assault; and
(3) exercise oversight over reports
of sexual assault. This statement
draws on GAO's preliminary
observations from an ongoing
engagement examining DOD's and
the Coast Guard's programs to
prevent and respond to sexual
assault. In conducting its ongoing
work GAO reviewed legislative
requirements and DOD and Coast
Guard guidance, analyzed sexual
assault incident data, and obtained
through surveys and interviews the
perspective on sexual assault
matters of more than 3,900
servicemembers stationed in the
United States and overseas. The
results of GAO's survey and
interviews provide insight into the
implementation of the programs
but are nongeneralizable.
GAO expects to issue its final
report in August 2008 and to make
a number of recommendations to
improve implementation of sexual
assault prevention and response
programs and improve oversight of
the programs in both DOD and the
To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on GAO-08-1013T.
For more information, contact Brenda S.
Farrell at (202) 512-3604 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Preliminary Observations on DOD's and the Coast
Guard's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response
What GAO Found
DOD and the Coast Guard have established policies and programs to prevent,
respond to, and resolve reported sexual assault incidents involving
servicemembers; however, implementation of the programs is hindered by
several factors. GAO found that (1) DOD's guidance may not adequately
address some important issues, such as how to implement its program in
deployed and joint environments; (2) most, but not all, commanders support
the programs; (3) program coordinators' effectiveness can be hampered when
program management is a collateral duty; (4) required sexual assault
prevention and response training is not consistently effective; and (5) factors
such as a DOD-reported shortage of mental health care providers affect
whether servicemembers who are victims of sexual assault can or do access
mental health services. Left unchecked, these challenges can discourage or
prevent some servicemembers from using the programs when needed.
GAO found, based on responses to its nongeneralizeable survey administered
to 3,750 servicemembers and a 2006 DOD survey, the most recent available,
that occurrences of sexual assault may be exceeding the rates being reported,
suggesting that DOD and the Coast Guard have only limited visibility over the
incidence of these occurrences. At the 14 installations where GAO
administered its survey, 103 servicemembers indicated that they had been
sexually assaulted within the preceding 12 months. Of these, 52
servicemembers indicated that they did not report the sexual assault. GAO
also found that factors that discourage servicemembers from reporting a
sexual assault include the belief that nothing would be done; fear of
ostracism, harassment, or ridicule; and concern that peers would gossip.
Although DOD and the Coast Guard have established some mechanisms for
overseeing reports of sexual assault, neither has developed an oversight
framework-including clear objectives, milestones, performance measures,
and criteria for measuring progress-to guide their efforts. In compliance with
statutory requirements, DOD reports data on sexual assault incidents
involving servicemembers to Congress annually. However, DOD's report does
not include some data that would aid congressional oversight, such as why
some sexual assaults could not be substantiated following an investigation.
Further, the military services have not provided sufficient data to facilitate
oversight and enable DOD to conduct trend analyses. While the Coast Guard
voluntarily provides data to DOD for inclusion in its report, this information is
not provided to Congress because there is no requirement to do so. To provide
further oversight of DOD's programs, Congress, in 2004, directed DOD to form
a task force to undertake an examination of matters relating to sexual assault
in which members of the Armed Forces are either victims or offenders.
However, as of July 2008, the task force has not yet begun its review. Without
an oversight framework, as well as more complete data, decision makers in
DOD, the Coast Guard, and Congress lack information they need to evaluate
the effectiveness of the programs.
IUnited States Government Accountability Office
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United States. Government Accountability Office. Military Personnel: Preliminary Observations on DOD's and the Coast Guard's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Programs, text, July 31, 2008; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc295317/m1/2/: accessed February 20, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.