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Testimony: 

Before the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, 
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, House of Representatives: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 
GAO: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EDT:
Thursday, July 31, 2008: 

Military Personnel: 

Preliminary Observations on DOD's and the Coast Guard's Sexual Assault 
Prevention and Response Programs: 

Statement of Brenda S. Farrell, Director: 
Defense Capabilities and Management: 

GAO-08-1013T: 

GAO Highlights: 

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 Coast Guard. 

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. 

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
[hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-08-1013T]. For more 
information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604 or 
farrellb@gao.gov. 

[End of section] 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

Thank you for the opportunity to be here today to discuss issues 
related to the Department of Defense's (DOD) and Coast Guard's programs 
to prevent, respond to, and resolve reported incidents of sexual 
assault. As you know, sexual assault is a crime that contradicts the 
core values that DOD, the military services,[Footnote 1] and the Coast 
Guard expect servicemembers to follow, such as treating their fellow 
members with dignity and respect. Recognizing this, Congress in 2004 
directed the Secretary of Defense to develop a comprehensive policy for 
DOD on the prevention of and response to sexual assaults involving 
servicemembers, including an option that would enable servicemembers to 
confidentially disclose an incident of sexual assault. Since 2005, 
active duty servicemembers have had two options for reporting an 
alleged sexual assault: (1) restricted, which allows victims of sexual 
assault to disclose a sexual assault incident to specific individuals 
and receive medical care and other victim advocacy services without 
initiating a criminal investigation; and (2) unrestricted, which 
entails notification of the chain of command and may trigger a criminal 
investigation. Although these requirements do not apply to the Coast 
Guard, which is overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, the 
Coast Guard has adopted similar reporting options. 

Mr. Chairman, you have recognized the need to shed light on this 
important issue. Specifically, you asked GAO to examine sexual assault 
prevention and response programs at the military academies as well as 
at military installations within DOD and the Coast Guard and during 
deployments. In response, we issued a report in January 2008 that 
reviewed programs to address sexual assault and sexual harassment at 
the military and Coast Guard academies.[Footnote 2] This August, we 
will issue our follow-on report examining DOD's and the Coast Guard's 
programs to prevent and respond to sexual assault, including during 
deployments. A draft of this report is currently with the agencies for 
comment. Thus, our findings and recommendations have not been 
finalized. 

My testimony today is based on our preliminary observations from our 
ongoing work requested by this committee. Specifically, my testimony 
today will address the extent to which DOD and the Coast Guard: 

* have developed and implemented policies and programs to prevent, 
respond to, and resolve sexual assault incidents involving 
servicemembers; 

* have visibility over reports of sexual assault involving 
servicemembers; and: 

* exercise oversight over reports of sexual assault involving 
servicemembers. 

To obtain our preliminary observations, we reviewed legislative 
requirements; reviewed DOD's, the military services', and the Coast 
Guard's guidance and requirements for the prevention of, response to, 
and resolution of sexual assault; analyzed sexual assault incident 
data; and visited 15 military installations in the United States and 
overseas to assess implementation of the programs. At the installations 
we visited, we met with sexual assault prevention and response program 
coordinators; victim advocates; judge advocates; medical and mental 
health personnel; criminal investigative personnel; law enforcement 
personnel; chaplains; various military commanders, including company 
and field grade officers; and senior enlisted servicemembers. We also 
obtained the perspective of more than 3,900 servicemembers by 
administering a total of 3,750 confidential surveys to a nonprobability 
sample of randomly selected servicemembers and conducting more than 150 
one-on-one, structured interviews with randomly selected servicemembers 
at 14 of the 15 locations we visited. Our survey is the first since 
2006 to obtain the perspectives of selected servicemembers in each 
military service and the Coast Guard on sexual assault issues and the 
first to assess sexual assault issues in the Coast Guard since the 
restricted reporting option became available in December 2007. Because 
we did not select survey and interview participants using a 
statistically representative sampling method, our survey results and 
the comments provided during our interview sessions are 
nongeneralizable and therefore cannot be projected across DOD, a 
service, or any single installation we visited. However, the survey 
results and comments provide insight into the command climate and 
implementation of sexual assault prevention and response programs at 
each location at the time of our visit. 

We conducted this performance audit from July 2007 through July 2008 in 
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. Those 
standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain 
sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our 
findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that 
the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and 
conclusions based on our audit objectives. 

Summary: 

DOD has taken positive steps to respond to congressional direction by 
developing and implementing policies and programs to prevent and 
respond to reported sexual assault incidents involving servicemembers, 
and the Coast Guard has taken similar steps on its own initiative. 
Commanders are also taking action against alleged sexual assault 
offenders. However, (1) DOD's guidance may not adequately address some 
important issues, such as how to implement its program in deployed or 
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. For example, at the installations we 
visited, we found that commanders--that is, company and field grade 
officers--had taken actions to address incidents of sexual assault and 
were generally supportive of sexual assault prevention and response 
programs; however, at three of the installations we visited, program 
officials told us of meeting with resistance from commanders when 
attempting to advertise, in barracks and work areas, the programs or 
the options for reporting a sexual assault. Also, although DOD and the 
Coast Guard require that all servicemembers receive periodic training 
on their respective sexual assault prevention and response programs, 
our nongeneralizeable survey, interviews, and discussions with 
servicemembers and program officials revealed that a majority, but not 
all, servicemembers are receiving the required training and that some 
who have received it still would not know or were not sure how to 
report a sexual assault using the restricted reporting option. 

We found, based on responses to our survey 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. We recognize that the precise number of sexual assaults 
involving servicemembers is not possible to determine and that studies 
suggest sexual assaults are generally underreported in the United 
States. Nonetheless, our findings indicate that some servicemembers may 
choose not to report sexual assault incidents for a variety of reasons, 
including the belief that nothing would be done or that reporting an 
incident would negatively impact their careers. In fiscal year 2007, 
DOD received 2,688 reports of alleged sexual assault, brought with 
either the restricted or unrestricted reporting option, involving 
servicemembers as either the alleged offenders or victims. The Coast 
Guard, which did not offer the restricted reporting option during 
fiscal year 2007, received 72 reports of alleged sexual assault brought 
with the unrestricted reporting option during that time period. 
However, servicemembers told us that they were aware of alleged sexual 
assault incidents involving other servicemembers that were not reported 
to program officials, and a 2006 Defense Manpower Data Center survey 
found that of the estimated 6.8 percent of women and 1.8 percent of men 
who experienced unwanted sexual contact[Footnote 3] during the prior 12 
months, the majority chose not to report it.[Footnote 4] 

While DOD and the Coast Guard have established some mechanisms for 
overseeing reports of sexual assault involving servicemembers, both 
lack an oversight framework, and DOD lacks key information needed to 
evaluate the effectiveness of sexual assault prevention and response 
programs. DOD's instruction charges the Sexual Assault Prevention and 
Response Office with evaluating the effectiveness of the sexual 
response prevention and response program. Our prior work has 
demonstrated the importance of outcome-oriented performance measures to 
successful program oversight and that an effective plan for 
implementing initiatives and measuring progress can help decision 
makers determine whether initiatives are achieving desired results. 
[Footnote 5] However, neither DOD nor the Coast Guard has developed an 
oversight framework that includes clear objectives, milestones, 
performance measures, or criteria for measuring progress. Congress also 
lacks visibility over the incidence of sexual assaults involving Coast 
Guard members because the Coast Guard is not required to provide these 
data to Congress. Further, because the military services are not 
providing DOD with the installation-and case-specific data beyond what 
is statutorily required for inclusion in the department's annual 
report, DOD lacks the means to fully execute its oversight role. Also, 
some data included in DOD's annual reports to Congress could be 
misleading and do not provide some information needed to facilitate 
congressional oversight or understanding of victims' use of the 
reporting options. In addition, Congress directed DOD in 2004 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, but, as of July 2008, the task force has not yet begun its 
review. As a result, DOD and the Coast Guard are not able to fully 
evaluate the effectiveness of their programs in achieving their goals, 
and lacking visibility over the incidence of sexual assaults in the 
military, congressional decision makers are impeded in judging the 
overall successes, challenges, and lessons learned from the programs. 

We discussed the preliminary observations that are contained in this 
statement with officials in both DOD and the Coast Guard. Overall, DOD 
officials agreed with the need to take further action to improve 
implementation and oversight of the department's program. They 
emphasized that the department has focused on program implementation 
versus program oversight to date. They highlighted several areas in 
need of further attention, including examining whether there is a need 
for additional guidance that addresses implementation of its program in 
deployed and joint environments, providing the military services with 
specific resources for the program, training, access to mental health 
services, and enhancing oversight of the program. For example, they 
stated they are in the process of examining whether it is necessary to 
revise DOD's guidance with regard to implementing the program in 
deployed and joint environments. They also stated they are beginning to 
develop preliminary standards that they expect will serve as the 
foundation for the department's baseline performance measures and 
evaluation criteria. Representatives from the military services 
expressed concerns over our preliminary finding that some commanders do 
not support the sexual assault prevention and response program. They 
stated that they would look into this issue further in an effort to 
address any potential problems. In addition, service officials told us 
that they did not want to provide DOD with installation-level data, 
unless required to do so, because of concerns that data may be 
misinterpreted or that even nonidentifying data about a victim may 
erode victim confidentiality. DOD officials emphasized the importance 
of having access to the military service's installation-level data for 
purposes of analysis and oversight. Coast Guard officials also 
emphasized that the Coast Guard has focused on program implementation 
versus program oversight to date. They stated that they would be 
willing to provide Congress with data on reported sexual assaults. In 
addition, they stated that moving forward they will work to leverage 
any changes DOD makes to improve implementation and oversight of its 
program. 

Background: 

In October 2004, Congress included a provision in the Ronald W. Reagan 
National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005[Footnote 6] 
that required the Secretary of Defense to develop a comprehensive 
policy for DOD on the prevention of and response to sexual assaults 
involving members of the Armed Forces. The legislation required that 
the department's policy be based on the recommendations of the 
Department of Defense Task Force on Care for Victims of Sexual Assaults 
[Footnote 7] and on such other matters as the Secretary considered 
appropriate. Among other things, the legislation required DOD to 
establish a standardized departmentwide definition of sexual assault, 
establish procedures for confidentially reporting sexual assault 
incidents, and submit an annual report to Congress on reported sexual 
assault incidents involving members of the Armed Forces. 

In October 2005, DOD issued DOD Directive 6495.01,[Footnote 8] which 
contains its comprehensive policy for the prevention of and response to 
sexual assault, and in June 2006 it issued DOD Instruction 6495.02, 
[Footnote 9] which provides guidance for implementing its policy. DOD's 
directive defines sexual assault as "intentional sexual contact, 
characterized by the use of force, physical threat or abuse of 
authority or when the victim does not or cannot consent. It includes 
rape, nonconsensual sodomy (oral or anal sex), indecent assault 
(unwanted, inappropriate sexual contact or fondling), or attempts to 
commit these acts. Sexual assault can occur without regard to gender or 
spousal relationship or age of victim. 'Consent' shall not be deemed or 
construed to mean the failure by the victim to offer physical 
resistance. Consent is not given when a person uses force, threat of 
force, coercion, or when a victim is asleep, incapacitated, or 
unconscious." 

The Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness has the 
responsibility for developing the overall policy and guidance for the 
department's sexual assault prevention and response program. Under the 
Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, 
DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (within the Office 
of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Plans) serves as the 
department's single point of responsibility for sexual assault policy 
matters.[Footnote 10] These include providing the military services 
with guidance, training standards, and technical support; overseeing 
the department's collection and maintenance of data on reported sexual 
assaults involving servicemembers; establishing mechanisms to measure 
the effectiveness of the department's sexual assault prevention and 
response program; and preparing the department's annual report to 
Congress. 

In DOD, active duty servicemembers have two options for reporting a 
sexual assault: (1) restricted, and (2) unrestricted. The restricted 
reporting option permits a victim to confidentially disclose an alleged 
sexual assault to select individuals and receive care without 
initiating a criminal investigation. A restricted report may only be 
made to a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, victim advocate, or 
medical personnel. Because conversations between servicemembers and 
chaplains are generally privileged, a victim may also confidentially 
disclose an alleged sexual assault to a chaplain. In contrast, the 
unrestricted reporting option informs the chain of command of the 
alleged sexual assault and may initiate an investigation by the 
military criminal investigative organization of jurisdiction. Since 
December 2007, the Coast Guard has employed a similar definition of 
sexual assault as well as similar options for reporting a sexual 
assault in its guidance, Commandant Instruction 1754.10C.[Footnote 11] 

At the installation level, the coordinators of the sexual assault 
prevention and response programs are known as Sexual Assault Response 
Coordinators in DOD and as Employee Assistance Program Coordinators in 
the Coast Guard. Other responders include victim advocates, judge 
advocates, medical and mental health providers, criminal investigative 
personnel, law enforcement personnel, and chaplains. 

DOD's and the Coast Guard's Programs to Prevent and Respond to Sexual 
Assault: 

DOD has taken positive steps to respond to congressional direction by 
establishing policies and a program to prevent, respond to, and resolve 
reported sexual assault incidents involving servicemembers, and the 
Coast Guard, on its own initiative, has taken similar steps. Further, 
we found that commanders are taking action against alleged sexual 
assault offenders. However, we also found that several factors hinder 
implementation of the programs, including (1) guidance that may not 
adequately address how to implement DOD's program in certain 
environments, (2) inconsistent support for the programs, (3) limited 
effectiveness of some program coordinators, (4) training that is not 
consistently effective, and (5) limited access to mental health 
services. 

DOD Has Taken Some Steps to Respond to Congressional Direction, and the 
Coast Guard on Its Own Initiative Has Made Similar Progress: 

In response to statutory requirements, DOD has established a program to 
prevent, respond to, and resolve sexual assaults involving 
servicemembers. DOD's policy and implementing guidance for its program 
are contained in DOD Directive 6495.01 and DOD Instruction 6495.02. 
Specific steps that DOD has taken include: 

* establishing a standardized departmentwide definition of sexual 
assault; 

* establishing a confidential option to report sexual assault 
incidents, known as restricted reporting; 

* establishing a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office to serve 
as the single point of accountability for sexual assault prevention and 
response; 

* requiring the military services to develop and implement their own 
policies and programs, based on DOD's policy, to prevent, respond to, 
and resolve sexual assault incidents; 

* establishing training requirements for all servicemembers on 
preventing and responding to sexual assault; and: 

* reporting data on sexual assault incidents to Congress annually. 

Although not explicitly required by statute, the Coast Guard has had a 
sexual assault prevention and response program in place since 1997. In 
December 2007, the Coast Guard, on its own initiative, updated its 
instruction to mirror DOD's policy and to include a restricted option 
for reporting sexual assaults. 

In DOD, each of the military services has also established a Sexual 
Assault Prevention and Response office with responsibility for 
overseeing and managing sexual assault matters within that military 
service.[Footnote 12] The Coast Guard's Office of Work-Life, which 
falls under the Commandant of the Coast Guard, is responsible for 
overseeing and managing sexual assault matters within the Coast Guard. 

Commanders Are Taking Action against Alleged Sexual Assault Offenders: 

A key aspect of the DOD's and the Coast Guard's efforts to address 
sexual assault is the disposition of alleged sexual assault offenders. 
In both DOD and the Coast Guard, commanders are responsible for 
discipline of misconduct, including sexual assault, and they have a 
variety of judicial and administrative options at their disposal. 
During the course of our ongoing work, we found that commanders at the 
installations we visited were supportive of the need to take action 
against alleged sexual assault offenders and were generally familiar 
with the options available to them for disposing of alleged sexual 
assault cases. Commanders' options are specified in the Uniform Code of 
Military Justice (UCMJ) and the Manual for Courts-Martial and include: 

* trial by court-martial, the most severe disposition option, which can 
lead to many different punishments including death, prison time, and 
punitive separation from military service; 

* nonjudicial punishment, pursuant to Article 15 of the UCMJ, which 
allows for a number of punishments including reducing a member's grade, 
seizing a portion of pay, and imposing restrictions on freedom; and: 

* administrative actions, which are corrective measures that may result 
in a variety of actions including issuing a reprimand, extra military 
instruction, or the administrative withholding of privileges. 

In some cases, commanders may also elect to take no action, such as if 
evidence of an offense is not sufficient. However, there are also 
instances in which commanders cannot take action, such as if the 
alleged offender is not subject to military law or could not be 
identified, if the alleged sexual assault is unsubstantiated or 
unfounded, or if there is insufficient evidence that an offense 
occurred. 

In determining how to dispose of alleged sexual assault offenders, 
commanders take into account a number of factors that are specified in 
the Manual for Courts-Martial. Some of the factors that commanders take 
into account include the character and military service of the accused, 
the nature of and circumstances surrounding the offense and the extent 
of harm caused, and the appropriateness of the authorized punishment to 
the particular accused or offense. Further, commanders' decisions are 
typically made after consulting with the supporting legal office (e.g., 
judge advocate). 

Several Factors Hinder Implementation of DOD's and the Coast Guard's 
Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Programs: 

Despite taking positive steps to implement programs to prevent and 
respond to reported sexual assault incidents involving servicemembers, 
we identified several factors during the course of our ongoing work 
that, if not addressed, could continue to hinder implementation of the 
programs. 

DOD's guidance may not adequately address some important issues. DOD's 
directive and instruction may not adequately address how to implement 
the program when operating in deployed or joint environments. Program 
officials we met with overseas told us that DOD's policies do not 
sufficiently take into account the realities of operating in a deployed 
environment, in which unique living and social circumstances can 
heighten the risks for sexual assault and program resources can be 
widely dispersed, which can make responding to a sexual assault 
challenging. Similarly, program officials told us there is a need for 
better coordination of resources when a sexual assault occurs in a 
joint environment. At one overseas installation we visited, Coast Guard 
members told us that they were confused about which program they fell 
under--DOD's or the Coast Guard's--and thus who they should report an 
alleged sexual assault to. Installations can also have multiple 
responders responsible for responding to an assault, potentially 
leading to further confusion. 

While most commanders support the programs, some do not. DOD's 
instruction requires commanders and other leaders to advocate a strong 
program and effectively implement DOD's sexual assault prevention and 
response policies. The Coast Guard's instruction similarly requires 
that commanders and other leaders ensure compliance with the Coast 
Guard's policies and procedures. Though we found that commanders--that 
is, company and field grade officers, at the installations we visited 
have taken actions to address incidents of sexual assault, some 
commanders do not support the programs. For example, at three of the 
installations program officials told us of meeting with resistance from 
commanders when attempting to place, in barracks and work areas, 
posters or other materials advertising the programs or the options for 
reporting a sexual assault. In some cases, commanders we spoke with 
told us that they supported the programs but did not like the 
restricted reporting option because they felt it hindered their ability 
to protect members of the unit or discipline alleged offenders. 
Commanders who do not support the programs effectively limit 
servicemembers' knowledge about the program and ability to exercise 
their reporting options. 

Program coordinators' effectiveness can be hampered when program 
management is a collateral duty. To implement sexual assault prevention 
and response programs at military installations, DOD and the services 
rely largely on Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, while the Coast 
Guard relies on Employee Assistance Program Coordinators. However, we 
found that there are a variety of models for staffing these positions. 
DOD's instruction leaves to the military services' discretion whether 
these positions are filled by military members, DOD civilian employees, 
or DOD contractors, and thus whether Sexual Assault Response 
Coordinators perform their roles as full-time or collateral duties. In 
the Coast Guard, Employee Assistance Program Coordinators are full-time 
federal civilian employees, but they are also responsible for 
simultaneously managing multiple programs, including sexual assault 
prevention and response, for a designated geographic region. We found 
that the time and resources dedicated to implementing sexual assault 
prevention and response programs varies, particularly when the program 
coordinators have collateral duties. 

Training is not consistently effective. Although DOD and the Coast 
Guard require that all servicemembers receive periodic training on 
their respective sexual assault prevention and response programs, our 
nongeneralizeable survey, interviews, and discussions with 
servicemembers and program officials revealed that a majority, but not 
all, servicemembers are receiving the required training, and that some 
servicemembers who have received it may not understand how to report a 
sexual assault using the restricted reporting option. For example, a 
survey we administered at 14 military installations revealed that while 
the majority of servicemembers we surveyed had received the required 
training, the percentage of servicemembers who responded that they 
would not know how to report a sexual assault using the restricted 
reporting option ranged from 13 to 43 percent for the seven 
installations where we administered our survey in the United States and 
from 13 to 28 percent for the seven installations where we administered 
our survey overseas. To date, neither DOD nor the Coast Guard has 
systematically evaluated the effectiveness of the training provided. 
Servicemembers who have not received the required training or are 
otherwise not familiar with their respective programs incur the risks 
of not knowing how to mitigate the possibility of being sexually 
assaulted or how to seek assistance if needed, or risk reporting the 
assault in a way that limits their option to maintain confidentiality 
while seeking treatment. 

Access to mental health services may be limited. DOD and the Coast 
Guard both require that sexual assault victims be made aware of 
available mental health services, and in 2007, DOD's Mental Health Task 
Force recommended that DOD take action to address factors that may 
prevent some servicemembers from seeking mental health care. However, 
we found that several factors, including a DOD-reported shortage of 
mental health care providers, the inherent logistical challenges of 
operating overseas or in geographically remote locations in the United 
States or overseas, and servicemembers' perceptions of stigma 
associated with mental health care can affect whether servicemembers 
who are victims of sexual assault can or do access mental health 
services. We also did not find any indication that either DOD or the 
Coast Guard are taking steps to systematically assess factors that may 
impede servicemembers who are victims of sexual assault from accessing 
mental health services. 

Visibility over Reports of Sexual Assault: 

We found, based on responses to our nongeneralizeable survey 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. We recognize that the precise number of sexual 
assaults involving servicemembers is not possible to determine and that 
studies suggest sexual assault are generally underreported in the 
United States. Nevertheless, our findings indicate that some 
servicemembers may choose not to report sexual assault incidents for a 
variety of reasons, including the belief that nothing would be done or 
that reporting an incident would negatively impact their careers. 

In fiscal year 2007, DOD received 2,688 reports of alleged sexual 
assault made with either the restricted or unrestricted reporting 
option involving servicemembers as either the alleged offenders or 
victims. The Coast Guard, which did not offer the restricted reporting 
option during fiscal year 2007, received 72 reports of alleged sexual 
assault made using the unrestricted reporting option during this same 
time period. At the 14 installations where we administered our 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 incident. The number who 
indicated they did not report the sexual assault ranged from one to six 
servicemembers per installation. 

Respondents to our survey also told us that they were aware of alleged 
sexual assault incidents involving other servicemembers that were not 
reported to program officials. DOD's fiscal year 2007 annual report and 
a Coast Guard program official further support the view that 
servicemembers are not reporting all sexual assault incidents, as does 
the Defense Manpower Data Center's 2006 Gender Relations Survey of 
Active Duty Members,[Footnote 13] administered between June and 
September 2006. Issued in March 2008, the Defense Manpower Data Center 
survey found that of the estimated 6.8 percent of women and 1.8 percent 
of men in DOD who experienced unwanted sexual contact during the prior 
12 months, the majority (an estimated 79 percent of women and 78 
percent of men) chose not to report it.[Footnote 14] The Defense 
Manpower and Data Center report did not include data for the Coast 
Guard, but, at our request, the center provided information showing 
that an estimated 3 percent of female and 1 percent of male Coast Guard 
respondents reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact during the 
prior 12 months.[Footnote 15] 

While the survey results suggest a disparity between the actual number 
of sexual assault incidents and the number of those reported, this is 
largely an expected result of anonymous surveys. Whereas formal 
reports, whether restricted or unrestricted, involve some level of 
personal identification and therefore a certain amount of risk on the 
part of the victim, the risks and incentives for service members making 
anonymous reports are very different. Hence, anonymous survey results 
tend to produce higher numbers of reported incidents. Another factor 
obscuring the visibility that DOD and Coast Guard officials can have 
over the incidence of sexual assault is the fact that many of the 
individuals to whom the assaults may be reported--including clergy and 
civilian victim care organizations, civilian friends, or family--are 
not required to disclose these incidents. As a result, while DOD and 
the Coast Guard strive to capture an accurate picture of the incidence 
of sexual assault, their ability is necessarily limited. 

Our survey data revealed a number of reasons why respondents who 
experienced a sexual assault during the preceding 12 months did not 
report the incident. Commonly cited reasons by survey respondents at 
the installations we visited included: (1) the belief that nothing 
would be done; (2) fear of ostracism, harassment, or ridicule by peers; 
and (3) the belief that their peers would gossip about the incident. 
Survey respondents also commented that they would not report a sexual 
assault because of concern about being disciplined for collateral 
misconduct, such as drinking when not permitted to do so; not knowing 
to whom to make a report; concern that a restricted report would not 
remain confidential; the belief that an incident was not serious enough 
to report; or concern that reporting an incident would negatively 
impact their career or unit morale. The Defense Manpower Data Center's 
2006 Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Members identified similar 
reasons why servicemembers did not report unwanted sexual contact, 
including concern that reporting an incident could result in denial of 
promotions, assignment to jobs that are not career enhancing, and 
professional and social retaliation. 

However, servicemembers also reported favorable results after reporting 
unwanted sexual contact to military authorities, including being 
offered counseling and advocacy services, medical and forensic 
services, legal services, and having action taken against alleged 
offenders. Respondents to our survey indicated they were supportive of 
the restricted reporting option as well. For example, a junior enlisted 
female observed that the military is going to great lengths to improve 
the ways that sexual assault can be reported and commented that "in my 
opinion, people will be more likely to report an incident anonymously." 
Similarly, a female senior officer commented that "giving the victim a 
choice of making a restricted or unrestricted report is a positive 
change and allows that person the level of privacy they require." 

DOD and the Coast Guard's Oversight over Reports of Sexual Assault: 

DOD and the Coast Guard have established some mechanisms for overseeing 
reports of sexual assault involving servicemembers. However, they lack 
the oversight framework necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of 
their sexual assault prevention and response programs, and DOD lacks 
key information from the military services needed to evaluate the 
effectiveness of department's program. DOD's annual reports to Congress 
may not effectively characterize incidents of sexual assault in the 
military services because the department has not clearly articulated a 
consistent methodology for reporting incidents and the means of 
presentation for some of the data does not facilitate comparison. In 
addition, the congressionally directed Defense Task Force on Sexual 
Assault in the Military Services has yet to begin its review, although 
DOD considers its work to be an important oversight element. 

Oversight Mechanisms in DOD and the Coast Guard: 

DOD's directive establishes the department's oversight mechanisms for 
its sexual assault prevention and response program and assigns 
oversight responsibility to DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and 
Response Office (within the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of 
Defense for Plans).[Footnote 16] DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and 
Response Office is responsible for: 

* developing programs, policies, and training standards for the 
prevention, reporting, response, and program accountability of sexual 
assaults involving servicemembers; 

* developing strategic program guidance and joint planning objectives; 

* storing and maintaining sexual assault data; 

* establishing institutional evaluation, quality improvement, and 
oversight mechanisms to periodically evaluate the effectiveness of the 
department's program; 

* assisting with identifying and managing trends; and: 

* preparing the department's annual report to Congress. 

To help provide oversight of the department's program, in 2006 DOD 
established a Sexual Assault Advisory Council, which consists of 
representatives from DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response 
Office, the military services, and the Coast Guard. The Sexual Assault 
Advisory Council's responsibilities include advising the Secretary of 
Defense on the department's sexual assault prevention and response 
policies, coordinating and reviewing the department's policies and 
programs, and monitoring progress. The military services have also 
established some oversight mechanisms, though these efforts are 
generally focused on collecting data. Though Coast Guard 
representatives attend meetings of DOD's Sexual Assault Advisory 
Council, the Coast Guard has few other formal oversight mechanisms in 
place to oversee its sexual assault prevention and response program. 
According to program officials with whom we spoke in both DOD and the 
Coast Guard, to date their focus has been on program implementation, as 
opposed to program evaluation. 

DOD and the Coast Guard Do Not Have an Oversight Framework in Place to 
Evaluate the Effectiveness of their Sexual Assault Prevention and 
Response Programs: 

Though DOD and the Coast Guard have established some oversight 
mechanisms, neither has established an oversight framework for their 
respective sexual assault prevention and response programs, which is 
necessary to ensure the effective implementation of their programs. Our 
prior work has demonstrated the importance of outcome-oriented 
performance measures to successful program oversight and shown that 
having an effective plan for implementing initiatives and measuring 
progress can help decision makers determine whether their initiatives 
are achieving desired results.[Footnote 17] In reviewing DOD's and the 
Coast Guard's programs, we found that neither has established an 
oversight framework because they have not established a comprehensive 
plan that includes such things as clear objectives, milestones, 
performance measures, and criteria for measuring progress, nor 
established evaluative performance measures with clearly defined data 
elements with which to analyze sexual assault incident data. Because 
DOD's and the Coast Guard's sexual assault prevention and response 
programs lack an oversight framework, their respective programs, as 
currently implemented, do not provide decision makers with the 
information they need to evaluate the effectiveness of the programs or 
to determine the extent to which the programs are helping to prevent 
sexual assault from occurring and to ensure that servicemembers who are 
victims of sexual assault receive the care they need. 

During the course of our ongoing work, we found a number of areas 
demonstrating the need for an oversight framework. For example, 
although DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office is 
responsible for establishing institutional program evaluation, quality 
improvement, and oversight mechanisms to periodically evaluate the 
effectiveness of the department's programs, it has yet to establish 
qualitative or quantitative metrics to facilitate program evaluation 
and assess effectiveness. As a specific example, DOD has not yet 
established metrics to determine the frequency with which victims were 
precluded from making a confidential report using the restricted 
reporting option or reasons that precluded them from doing so. 

Additionally, we found that neither DOD nor the Coast Guard has 
established performance goals, such as a goal to ensure that a specific 
percentage of servicemembers within a unit have received required 
training. In the absence of such measures, Sexual Assault Prevention 
and Response Office officials in DOD told us that they currently 
determine the effectiveness of DOD's program based on how well the 
military services are complying with program implementation 
requirements identified by DOD. 

Importantly, both DOD and the Coast Guard recognize the need to 
establish an oversight framework in addition to their existing 
oversight mechanisms. For example, the Sexual Assault Advisory Council 
is in the initial stages of developing performance measures and 
evaluation criteria to assess program performance and identify 
conditions needing attention. However, DOD has not yet established time 
frames for developing and implementing these measures. DOD also is 
working with the military services to develop guidelines to permit, 
among other uses, consistent assessment of program implementation 
during site visits. In addition, Coast Guard program officials told us 
that they plan to conduct reviews of their program for compliance and 
quality in the future and plan to leverage any metrics developed by DOD 
to assess their program. Further, the Coast Guard Investigative Service 
has begun to conduct limited trend analysis on reported incidents, 
including the extent to which alcohol or drugs were involved in alleged 
sexual assaults. 

Without an oversight framework to guide program implementation, DOD and 
the Coast Guard also risk not collecting all of the information needed 
to provide insight into the effectiveness of their programs. In 
reviewing DOD's program, we found that the military services 
encountered challenges providing requested data because the request to 
do so was made after the start of the data collection period. For 
example, with the exception of the Army, none of the military services 
was able to provide data as part of the fiscal year 2007 annual report 
to Congress on sexual assaults involving civilian victims, such as 
contractors and government employees. Similarly, while there is no 
statutory reporting requirement, the Coast Guard voluntarily 
participates in DOD's annual reporting requirement by submitting data 
to DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. However, DOD 
does not include these data in its annual report, and the Coast Guard 
does not provide these incident data to Congress because neither is 
required to do so. As a result, at the present time Congress does not 
have visibility over the extent to which sexual assaults involving 
Coast Guard members occur. 

DOD Lacks Access to Data to Conduct Comprehensive Cross-Service 
Analysis over Time: 

Though DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office is 
responsible for assisting with identifying and managing trends, it is 
not able to conduct comprehensive cross-service trend analysis of 
sexual assault incidents because it lacks access to installation-or 
case-level data that would facilitate such analyses. DOD officials told 
us that the military services will not provide installation-or case- 
level incident data beyond those that are aggregated at the military 
service level. These data are generally limited to information needed 
to meet statutory requirements for inclusion in the annual report to 
Congress. In discussing this matter with the military services, service 
officials told us they do not want to provide installation-or case- 
level data to DOD because they are concerned (1) the data may be 
misinterpreted, (2) even nonidentifying data about the victim may erode 
victim confidentiality, and (3) servicemembers may not report sexual 
assaults if case-level data are shared beyond the service-level. 
However, without access to such information, DOD does not have the 
means to identify those factors, and thus to fully execute its 
oversight role, including assessing trends over time. For example, 
without case-level data, DOD cannot determine the frequency with which 
sexual assaults are reported in each of the geographic combatant 
commands to better target resources over time. 

DOD Data Reported to Congress Could Be Misinterpreted: 

DOD reports data to Congress annually on the total number of restricted 
and unrestricted reported incidents of sexual assault. However, in 
reviewing DOD's annual reports to Congress, we found that the reports 
may not effectively characterize incidents of sexual assault in the 
military services because the department has not clearly articulated a 
consistent methodology for reporting incidents and the means of 
presentation for some of the data does not facilitate comparison. For 
example, meaningful comparisons of the data cannot be made because the 
respective offices that provide the data to DOD measure incidents of 
sexual assault differently. In the military services, Sexual Assault 
Response Coordinators, who focus on victim care, report data on the 
number of sexual assault incidents brought using the restricted 
reporting option based on the number of victims involved. In contrast, 
the criminal investigative organizations, which report data on the 
number of sexual assault incidents brought using the unrestricted 
reporting option, report data on a per "incident" basis, which may 
include multiple victims or alleged offenders. We believe that this 
lack of a common means of presentation for reporting purposes has 
prevented users of the reports from making meaningful comparisons or 
drawing conclusions from the reported numbers. 

Further, DOD's annual report lacks certain data that we believe would 
facilitate congressional oversight or understanding of victims' use of 
the reporting options. For example, while DOD's annual report provides 
Congress with the aggregated numbers of investigations during the prior 
year for which commanders could not take action against alleged 
offenders, those aggregated numbers do not distinguish cases in which 
evidence was found to be insufficient to substantiate an alleged 
assault versus the number of times a victim recanted an accusation or 
an alleged offender died. Also, though DOD's annual report documents 
the number of reports that were initially brought using the restricted 
reporting option and later changed to unrestricted, it includes these 
same figures in both categories--that is, the total number of 
restricted reports and the total number of unrestricted reports. An 
official in DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office told us 
that because the military services do not provide detailed case data to 
DOD that the department is not able to remove these reports from the 
total number of restricted reports when providing information in its 
annual report. However, we believe that the double listing of these 
figures is confusing. 

Congressionally Directed Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the 
Military Services Has Not Yet Begun Its Review: 

To provide further oversight of DOD's sexual assault prevention and 
response programs, the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization 
Act for Fiscal Year 2005[Footnote 18] required that the Defense Task 
Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services conduct an examination 
of matters relating to sexual assault in cases in which members of the 
Armed Forces are either victims or offenders.[Footnote 19] As part of 
its examination, the law directs the task force to assess, among other 
things, DOD's reporting procedures, collection, tracking, and use of 
data on sexual assault by senior military and civilian leaders, as well 
as DOD's oversight of sexual assault prevention and response programs. 
The law does not require an assessment of the Coast Guard's program. 
Senior officials within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense 
for Personnel and Readiness have stated that they plan to use the task 
force's findings to evaluate the effectiveness of DOD's sexual assault 
prevention and response programs. However, as of July 2008, this task 
force has yet to begin its review. 

Senior task force staff members we spoke with attributed the delays to 
challenges in appointing the task force members and member turnover. As 
of July 2008, however, they told us that all 12 task force members were 
appointed and that their goal is to hold their first open meeting, and 
thus begin their evaluation, in August 2008. They also told us that 
they project that by the end of fiscal year 2008 DOD will have expended 
about $15 million since 2005 to fund the task force's operations--with 
much of this funding going towards the task forces' operational 
expenses, such as salaries for the civilian staff members, contracts, 
travel, and rent. The law directs that the task force submit its report 
to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and 
Air Force no later than 1 year after beginning its examination. If such 
a goal were met, the task force's evaluation could be complete by 
August 2009. However, at this time it is uncertain whether the task 
force will be able to meet this goal. 

Concluding Observations: 

In closing, we believe that DOD and the Coast Guard have taken positive 
steps to prevent, respond to, and resolve reported incidents of sexual 
assault. However, a number of challenges--such as limited guidance for 
implementing DOD's policies in certain environments, some commanders' 
limited support and limited resources for the programs, training that 
is not consistently effective, limited access to mental health 
services, and a lack of an oversight framework--could undermine the 
effectiveness of some of their efforts. Left unchecked, these 
challenges could undermine DOD's and the Coast Guard's efforts by 
eroding servicemembers' confidence in the programs, decreasing the 
likelihood that sexual assault victims will turn to the programs for 
help when needed, or by limiting the ability of DOD and the Coast Guard 
to judge the overall successes, challenges, and lessons learned from 
their programs. We expect to make a number or recommendations in our 
final report to improve implementation and oversight of sexual assault 
prevention and response programs in both DOD and the Coast Guard. Our 
final report will also include DOD's and the Coast Guard's response to 
our findings and recommendations once they have had an opportunity to 
further review our draft report. 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, this concludes my 
prepared statement. I would be happy to answer any questions you may 
have at this time. 

GAO Contact and Acknowledgments: 

If you have any questions on matters discussed in this testimony, 
please contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604 or farrellb@gao.gov. 
Key contributors to this statement include Marilyn K. Wasleski 
(Assistant Director), Joanna Chan, Pawnee A. Davis, K. Nicole Harms, 
Wesley A. Johnson, Ronald La Due Lake, Stephen V. Marchesani, Amanda K. 
Miller, and Cheryl A. Weissman. 

[End of section] 

Footnotes: 

[1] For purposes of this testimony, we use the term "military services" 
to refer collectively to the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps. 
While the Coast Guard is a military service, it generally falls under 
the control of the Department of Homeland Security and not the 
Department of Defense. Therefore, we address the Coast Guard separately 
from the other military services. 

[2] GAO, Military Personnel: The DOD and Coast Guard Academies Have 
Taken Steps to Address Incidents of Sexual Harassment and Assault, but 
Greater Federal Oversight Is Needed, [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-
bin/getrpt?GAO-08-296] (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 17, 2008). 

[3] The 2006 Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Members defines 
unwanted sexual contact to include rape, nonconsensual sodomy (oral or 
anal sex) or indecent assault (unwanted, inappropriate sexual contact 
or fondling) that can occur regardless of gender, age, or spousal 
relationship. 

[4] The 95 percent confidence interval for this estimate is +/-1 
percent. 

[5] GAO, Results-Oriented Cultures: Implementation Steps to Assist 
Mergers and Organizational Transformations, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-669] (Washington, D.C.: July 
2, 2003). 

[6] Pub. L. No. 108-375 § 577 (2004). 

[7] In February 2004, the Secretary of Defense directed the Under 
Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to undertake a 90-day 
review to assess sexual assault policies and programs in DOD and the 
services and recommend changes to increase prevention, promote 
reporting; enhance the quality and support provided to victims, 
especially within combat theaters; and improve accountability for 
offender actions. Among the recommendations of the task force was that 
DOD establish a single point of accountability for all sexual assault 
policy matters within the department. 

[8] Department of Defense Directive 6495.01, Sexual Assault Prevention 
and Response (SAPR) Program (Oct. 6, 2005). 

[9] Department of Defense Instruction 6495.02, Sexual Assault 
Prevention and Response Program Procedures (June 23, 2006). 

[10] Except for legal processes provided under the Uniform Code of 
Military Justice and Manual for Courts-Martial and criminal 
investigative policy matters that are assigned to the Judge Advocates 
General of the military services and DOD's Inspector General, 
respectively. 

[11] Commandant Instruction 1754.10C, Sexual Assault Prevention and 
Response Program (SAPRP) (Dec. 20, 2007). 

[12] Except for the Navy, which refers to its program as Sexual Assault 
Victim Intervention, each of the military services refers to its 
program as Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. 

[13] Defense Manpower Data Center 2006 Gender Relations Survey of 
Active Duty Members (DMDC Report No. 2007-022, March 2008). The 
weighted response rate was 30 percent. 

[14] For the DOD female population, this is an estimate of 6.8 percent 
with a margin of error of +/-1 percent. For the male population, this 
is an estimate of 1.8 percent with a margin of error of +/-0.6 percent. 
The margins of error are calculated with a 95 percent confidence 
interval. 

[15] For the Coast Guard female population, this is an estimate of 3 
percent with a 95 percent level of confidence with a margin or error of 
+/-3 percent. For the male population, this is an estimate of 1 percent 
with a margin of error of +/-1 percent. 

[16] DOD's instruction requires the Sexual Assault Prevention and 
Response Office to serve as the single point of responsibility for 
sexual assault policy matters, except for legal processes provided 
under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Manual for Courts- 
Martial, and criminal investigative policy matters that are assigned to 
the Judge Advocates General of the military services and DOD's 
Inspector General, respectively. 

[17] [hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-669]. 

[18] Pub. L. No. 108-375 § 576 (2004). 

[19] The Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services 
is an extension of the Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment and 
Violence at the Military Service Academies established by the Secretary 
of Defense pursuant to the National Defense Authorization Act for 
Fiscal Year 2004, Pub. L. No. 108-136 § 526 (2003). The Ronald W. 
Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005 directed 
that the task force studying the academies be renamed and begin 
carrying out the new functions required by the National Defense 
Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005 once it had completed its duties 
under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004. The 
National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005 also allowed 
the Secretary of Defense to change the composition of the task force 
after it completed its work related to the academies and before it 
began to carry out its new functions. The Defense Task Force on Sexual 
Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies submitted its 
report on June 30, 2005. 

[End of section] 

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