Military Personnel:

DOD's and the Coast Guard's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Programs Need to Be Further Strengthened

GAO-10-405T: Published: Feb 24, 2010. Publicly Released: Feb 24, 2010.

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This report discusses our efforts to evaluate the Department of Defense's (DOD) and the U.S. Coast Guard's oversight and implementation of their respective sexual assault prevention and response programs. Our findings build upon our previous work related to sexual assault in the military services. DOD and the Coast Guard have taken a number of positive steps to increase program awareness and to improve their prevention and response to occurrences of sexual assault, but additional actions are needed to strengthen their respective programs. As we have previously reported, sexual assault is a crime with a far-reaching negative impact on the military services in that it undermines core values, degrades mission readiness and esprit de corps, subverts strategic goodwill, and raises financial costs. Since we reported on these implications in 2008, incidents of sexual assault have continued to occur; in fiscal year 2008, DOD reported nearly 3,000 alleged sexual assault cases, and the Coast Guard reported about 80. However, it remains impossible to accurately analyze trends or draw conclusions from these data because DOD and the Coast Guard have not yet standardized their respective reporting requirements.

DOD has taken steps to implement our August 2008 recommendations to improve its sexual assault prevention and response program; however, its efforts reflect various levels of progress, and opportunities exist for further program improvements. To its credit, DOD has implemented four of the nine recommendations in our August 2008 report. Further, while the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) has introduced some changes in DOD's annual report to Congress, it has not completed the process of developing a standardized set of sexual assault data elements and definitions. We also found that OSD cannot assess training programs as we recommended, because OSD's strategic plans and draft oversight framework do not contain measures against which to benchmark performance, and DOD has not implemented our recommendation to evaluate processes for staffing key installation-level positions because, according to OSD officials, they were advised that the Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services would be making related recommendations. Finally, OSD officials stated that they will not address our recommendation to collect installation-level data--despite its availability and the military services' willingness to provide them--until they have implemented the Defense Sexual Assault Incident Database to maintain these data. While the Coast Guard has partially implemented one of our recommendations to further develop its sexual assault prevention and response program, it has not implemented the other. In August 2008, we reported that the Coast Guard's sexual assault prevention and response program was hindered by several issues, and we made two recommendations to strengthen its program's implementation. Further, the Coast Guard lacks a systematic process to collect, document, and maintain its sexual assault data and related program information, and it lacks quality control procedures to ensure that program data being collected are reliable. Additionally, while the Coast Guard's instruction requires that all Coast Guard Sexual Assault Response Coordinators be trained to perform relevant duties, officials stated that they have not developed a curriculum or implemented training for the Coast Guard's 16 Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, as they had elected alternatively to develop a training curriculum for other program personnel. Thus, to ensure that the Coast Guard can provide proper advice to its personnel, in our February 2010 report we recommend that it establish and administer a curriculum for all key program personnel.

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