Military Personnel:

Actions Needed to Address Sexual Assaults of Male Servicemembers

GAO-15-284: Published: Mar 19, 2015. Publicly Released: Mar 19, 2015.

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Brenda S. Farrell
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farrellb@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) has taken steps to address sexual assaults of servicemembers generally, but it has not used all of its data, such as analyses that show significantly fewer male servicemembers than females reporting when they are sexually assaulted, to inform program decision making. In 2014, DOD data show that 1,180 males and 4,104 females reported a sexual assault to DOD. GAO's analysis of sexual assault prevalence estimates using the results of a study conducted for DOD by the RAND Corporation shows that at most 13 percent of males reported their assaults, whereas at least 40 percent of females reported. DOD has recently begun to develop ideas for increasing male reporting, such as further outreach. DOD has reported data on the gender of military sexual assault victims since 2008, but it has not used all these data to inform program decision making or established a plan to do so. Since 2008, GAO has reported on limitations in DOD's use of data to inform decision making in its sexual assault prevention and response program, and recommended that DOD take action in response, but problems persist. Thus, without a plan for how it will use data in making decisions about program development, DOD risks leaving important issues, such as those related to male victims, unaddressed.

DOD has taken steps to provide and improve the availability of medical and mental health care for all sexual assault victims, but DOD's Health Affairs office has not systematically identified whether male victims have any gender-specific needs. DOD sexual assault policies specify that care be sensitive to gender-specific issues. Care providers and experts said that male victims may have different responses to the trauma than females, such as questioning their masculinity and their sexuality. In 2008, DOD recognized that more information was needed on the needs of males who are sexually assaulted but did not identify those needs. DOD stated in its April 2014 prevention strategy that it intends to research the situations leading to male victimization and the needs of male victims, and has begun to collect information toward this objective with its 2014 Military Workplace Study. However, until DOD's Health Affairs office systematically evaluates the medical and mental health-care needs of male victims, it will be difficult for DOD to help its providers maximize the effectiveness of the care that they provide to male sexual assault victims.

DOD has recognized that a cultural change is needed to address sexual assaults, but has not yet taken several key steps to further this change. In reports and interviews, DOD has identified that military culture can pose challenges to effectively implementing a program to prevent sexual assault. For example, in 2008, DOD acknowledged that it would need to address the “unofficial” culture that is defined by exaggerated characteristics of stereotypical masculinity, among other things, and is linked to values and customs that perpetuate rape. Key practices for implementing organizational transformations, such as cultural changes, include establishing and measuring progress toward performance goals and training employees as a means to effect the desired change. DOD has not established goals or metrics to gauge sexual assault–related issues for male servicemembers, and has also generally not portrayed male sexual assault victims in its sexual assault prevention training material. Actions to address these issues could help DOD effect the change it states is needed to effectively prevent and respond to sexual assaults of male servicemembers.

Why GAO Did This Study

Females have long been viewed as the primary victims of sexual assault but, based on survey data, RAND estimated that in 2014, about 9,000 to about 13,000 male servicemembers were sexually assaulted. The House report accompanying the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act mandated that GAO review DOD's efforts to address sexual assaults of male servicemembers.

This report addresses the extent to which (1) DOD has taken actions to prevent and respond to sexual assaults of male servicemembers, (2) DOD's sexual assault prevention and response program is meeting the medical and mental health-care needs of male servicemembers, and (3) the culture of the U.S. military poses distinct challenges for preventing and responding to sexual assaults of male servicemembers. GAO reviewed DOD reports and strategies; analyzed data on sexual assaults from surveys and reported incidents from fiscal years 2008 through 2014; and interviewed DOD officials with related program responsibilities.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends, among other things, that DOD develop a plan for using its data to inform program development; systematically evaluate whether male victims have gender-specific medical and mental health-care needs; develop goals and metrics; and revise training to address male victims. DOD concurred with all recommendations.

For more information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604 or farrellb@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD was contacted on July 26, 2016 for an update on efforts to address this recommendation and responded that they are working on the report required by the NDAA on male victims of sexual assault and they believe that the report will, at a minimum, take some steps to address this recommendation. DOD also noted that the report required by the NDAA is due in the first quarter of FY 17 and that they will provide us with a copy once it has been approved. We will provide updated information when we confirm any actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's ability to prevent sexual assaults of male servicemembers, to increase its responsiveness to male servicemembers who are sexually assaulted, and to help DOD's sexual assault prevention and response program realize the full benefit of the data it collects on sexual assault incidents, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Secretaries of the military services, to develop a plan for data-driven decision making to prioritize program efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD was contacted on July 26, 2016 for an update on efforts to address this recommendation and responded that they are working on the report required by the NDAA on male victims of sexual assault and they believe that the report will, at a minimum, take some steps to address this recommendation. DOD also noted that the report required by the NDAA is due in the first quarter of FY 17 and that they will provide us with a copy once it has been approved. We will provide updated information when we confirm any actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's ability to prevent sexual assaults of male servicemembers, to increase its responsiveness to male servicemembers who are sexually assaulted, and to address challenges faced by male servicemembers as DOD continues to seek to transform its culture to address sexual assault, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Secretaries of the military services, to develop clear goals with associated metrics to drive the changes needed to address sexual assaults of males and articulate these goals, for example in the department's next sexual assault prevention strategy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD was contacted on July 26, 2016 for an update on efforts to address this recommendation and responded that they are working on the report required by the NDAA on male victims of sexual assault and they believe that the report will, at a minimum, take some steps to address this recommendation. DOD also noted that the report required by the NDAA is due in the first quarter of FY 17 and that they will provide us with a copy once it has been approved. We will provide updated information when we confirm any actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's ability to prevent sexual assaults of male servicemembers, to increase its responsiveness to male servicemembers who are sexually assaulted, and to address challenges faced by male servicemembers as DOD continues to seek to transform its culture to address sexual assault, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Secretaries of the military services, to include information about the sexual victimization of males in communications to servicemembers that are used to raise awareness of sexual assault and the department's efforts to prevent and respond to it.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD was contacted on July 26, 2016 for an update on efforts to address this recommendation and responded that they are working on the report required by the NDAA on male victims of sexual assault and they believe that the report will, at a minimum, take some steps to address this recommendation. DOD also noted that the report required by the NDAA is due in the first quarter of FY 17 and that they will provide us with a copy once it has been approved. We will provide updated information when we confirm any actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's ability to prevent sexual assaults of male servicemembers, to increase its responsiveness to male servicemembers who are sexually assaulted, and to address challenges faced by male servicemembers as DOD continues to seek to transform its culture to address sexual assault, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Secretaries of the military services, to revise sexual assault prevention and response training to more comprehensively and directly address the incidence of male servicemembers being sexually assaulted and how certain behavior and activities--like hazing--can constitute a sexual assault.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD was contacted on July 26, 2016 for an update on efforts to address this recommendation and responded that they are working on the report required by the NDAA on male victims of sexual assault and they believe that the report will, at a minimum, take some steps to address this recommendation. DOD also noted that the report required by the NDAA is due in the first quarter of FY 17 and that they will provide us with a copy once it has been approved. We will provide updated information when we confirm any actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's ability to prevent sexual assaults of male servicemembers, to increase its responsiveness to male servicemembers who are sexually assaulted, and to help ensure that all of DOD's medical and mental health providers are generally aware of any gender-specific needs of sexual assault victims, and that victims are provided the care that most effectively meets those needs, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs should, in collaboration with the services' Surgeons General, systematically evaluate the extent to which differences exist in the medical and mental health-care needs of male and female sexual assault victims, and the care regimen, if any, that will best meet those needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs)

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD was contacted on July 26, 2016 for an update on efforts to address this recommendation and responded that they are working on the report required by the NDAA on male victims of sexual assault and they believe that the report will, at a minimum, take some steps to address this recommendation. DOD also noted that the report required by the NDAA is due in the first quarter of FY 17 and that they will provide us with a copy once it has been approved. We will provide updated information when we confirm any actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's ability to prevent sexual assaults of male servicemembers, to increase its responsiveness to male servicemembers who are sexually assaulted, and to help ensure that all of DOD's medical and mental health providers are generally aware of any gender-specific needs of sexual assault victims, and that victims are provided the care that most effectively meets those needs, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs should, in collaboration with the services' Surgeons General, develop and issue guidance for the department's medical and mental health providers--and other personnel, as appropriate--based on the results of this evaluation that delineates these gender-specific distinctions and the care regimen that is recommended to most effectively meet those needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs)

 

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