Sexual Assault: DOD and Coast Guard Should Ensure Laws Are Implemented to Improve Oversight of Key Prevention and Response Efforts

GAO-22-103973 Published: Mar 28, 2022. Publicly Released: Mar 28, 2022.
Jump To:
Fast Facts

Sexual assaults in the military continue to increase, although Congress, the Department of Defense, and the Coast Guard have taken actions to prevent and address them.

Congress passed 249 statutory requirements between 2004 and 2019 to improve how the military:

  • helps sexual assault victims
  • prevents sexual assaults
  • manages and oversees prevention efforts
  • investigates cases and conducts judicial proceedings

DOD and the Coast Guard have met most of these requirements but not all of them. Also, they don't have enough oversight to know whether some of their efforts are effective.

Our 23 recommendations address these and other issues.

Aerial view of the Pentagon

Skip to Highlights
Highlights

What GAO Found

Congress passed 249 statutory requirements directing the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Coast Guard to address prevention of and response to sexual assault incidents, and most remain in force. The statutory requirements covered four broad categories: Victim Assistance and Advocacy (37 percent); Management and Oversight (33 percent); Military Justice and Investigations (21 percent); and Prevention Efforts (9 percent).

DOD fulfilled most of these statutory requirements, such as establishing comprehensive policies to prevent and respond to sexual assault as well as training for sexual assault forensic and nurse examiners. However, DOD partially implemented 24 requirements and did not implement 5 requirements. (See figure.) For example, DOD did not report certain information in annual reports; establish and implement an evaluation plan to assess the effectiveness of the outcomes of its programs and activities related to sexual assault prevention and response; or ensure the tracking of commander compliance for conducting organizational climate assessments.

Implementation Status of Statutory Requirements That the Department of Defense and the Coast Guard Were Directed to Implement, as of February 2022

Implementation Status of Statutory Requirements That the Department of Defense and the Coast Guard Were Directed to Implement, as of February 2022

Until DOD fully implements all of these statutory requirements, such as those related to program evaluations, Congress and DOD may continue to lack necessary data about the effectiveness of programs and activities, which can affect oversight. Additionally, DOD may not ensure compliance with the laws and may not fully implement efforts to support victims and prevent sexual assaults.

The Coast Guard implemented most statutory requirements to prevent and respond to sexual assault. However, the Coast Guard partially implemented five statutory requirements and did not implement one. For example, the Coast Guard established policies for victims who asked to be transferred, but did not meet statutory requirements for timelines to make decisions on whether to transfer victims. In general, without oversight structures that include mechanisms to track and document implementation of statutory requirements, DOD and the Coast Guard may be unable to ensure they are fully meeting their responsibilities to help prevent and respond to sexual assault.

Why GAO Did This Study

Sexual assault is a heinous crime that can have lasting, harmful effects on victims, and contradicts the core values that DOD and the Coast Guard expect servicemembers to follow.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020 includes a provision for GAO to review the armed forces' implementation of statutory requirements related to sexual assault prevention and response from fiscal years 2004 through 2019. This report identifies and describes the status of each statutory requirement for sexual assault prevention and response contained in the NDAAs. It also evaluates the extent to which DOD and the Coast Guard implemented the statutory requirements, and assessed their effectiveness when directed by statute.

GAO reviewed statutory requirements, and assessed information from DOD and the Coast Guard on implementation and effectiveness.

Skip to Recommendations

Recommendations

GAO is making 23 recommendations to improve oversight of DOD's and the Coast Guard's sexual assault prevention and response efforts, including that DOD establish an evaluation plan, and that DOD and the Coast Guard establish mechanisms to track and to document that relevant laws are implemented. DOD and the Department of Homeland Security, the parent agency of the Coast Guard, concurred with all 23 recommendations, and each noted respective actions it was taking to address them.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office and the Secretaries of the military departments, include all required information in DOD annual reports, and if any required information is not included, explain why, and whether there is a plan to include it in future annual reports. (Recommendation 1)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should ensure all required information is included in the annual reports. (Recommendation 2)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Navy and the Marine Corps include all required information in the annual reports. (Recommendation 3)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Air Force The Secretary of the Air Force should ensure all required information is included in the annual reports. (Recommendation 4)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness—in collaboration with the Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office and the Secretaries of the military departments—sets a timeframe to establish, and establishes, an evaluation plan and mechanisms for assessing the effectiveness of the SAPR program and related activities—such as policies and training—in achieving its intended outcomes, as required by section 1602(c) and 1612(a) and (b) of the Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2011 and section 545(a) of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2017. (Recommendation 5)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should review and update guidance, and set a timeframe for completion, to ensure compliance with statutory requirements related to the consistent tracking of command climate assessments in the applicable database, as required by section 1721 of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2014 and Army guidance. (Recommendation 6)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Commandant of the Marine Corps reviews and updates Marine Corps guidance, and sets a timeframe for completion, to ensure compliance with statutory requirements related to including command climate information in commanders' performance evaluations and assessments, as required by section 508 of the Carl Levin and Howard P. "Buck" McKeon NDAA for Fiscal Year 2015. (Recommendation 7)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Air Force The Secretary of the Air Force should review and update guidance, and set a timeframe for completion, to ensure compliance with statutory requirements related to including command climate information in commanders' performance evaluations and assessments, as required by section 508 of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2015. (Recommendation 8)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should review and update policy or establish policy, and set a timeframe for completion, to ensure alignment with sexual assault prevention and response statutory requirements, specifically section 1741(a)-(c) and (f) of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2014, in coordination with Secretary of the Army as the DOD Executive Agent of the United States Military Entrance Processing Command. (Recommendation 9)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should review and update policy or establish policy, and set a timeframe for completion, to ensure alignment with sexual assault prevention and response statutory requirements, specifically section 582(a) of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2012, and section 520(a) of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2018. (Recommendation 10)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should review and update policy or establish policy, and set a timeframe for completion, to ensure alignment with sexual assault prevention and response statutory requirements, specifically section 1741(a)-(c) and (f) of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2014. (Recommendation 11)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Commandant of the Marine Corps reviews and updates policy or establishes policy, and sets a timeframe for completion, to ensure alignment with sexual assault prevention and response statutory requirements, specifically, section 1745(a)-(c) of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2014 and updates such policies for compliance with the statute. (Recommendation 12)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should take steps to ensure compliance with section 535(a)-(b) of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2018 by—for example— documenting relevant actions in policy or other relevant guidance. (Recommendation 13)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should take steps to ensure compliance with section 535(a)-(b) of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2018 by—for example— documenting relevant actions in policy or other relevant guidance. (Recommendation 14)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Air Force The Secretary of the Air Force should take steps to ensure compliance with section 535(a)-(b) of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2018 by—for example—documenting relevant actions in policy or other relevant guidance. (Recommendation 15)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Army The Secretary of the Army should ensure that the Superintendent of the United States Military Academy West Point takes steps to document actions, including the dissemination of the resource guide, taken in accordance with section 545(a)-(c) of the John S. McCain NDAA for Fiscal Year 2019. (Recommendation 16)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Navy The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy takes steps to document actions taken in accordance with section 545(a)-(c) of the John S. McCain NDAA for Fiscal Year 2019. (Recommendation 17)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of the Air Force The Secretary of the Air Force should ensure that the Superintendent of the United States Air Force Academy takes steps to document actions, including the dissemination of the resource guide, taken in accordance with section 545(a)-(c) of the John S. McCain NDAA for Fiscal Year 2019. (Recommendation 18)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Defense The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in collaboration with the Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office and the Secretaries of the military departments, establishes an oversight structure that includes mechanisms to consistently track and document implementation of ongoing and future NDAA statutory requirements related to sexual assault prevention and response to ensure compliance with applicable laws and improve oversight of its SAPR program. (Recommendation 19)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Homeland Security The Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that the Commandant of the Coast Guard, in collaboration with the Director of Health, Safety & Work Life Directorate, reviews and updates policy or establishes policy, and sets a timeframe for completion, to ensure alignment with sexual assault prevention and response statutory requirements, specifically, sections 1712 and 1745(a)-(c) of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2014. (Recommendation 20)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Homeland Security The Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that the Commandant of the Coast Guard, in collaboration with the Director of Health, Safety & Work Life Directorate, implements the education and training on sexual assault prevention and response for individuals enlisted under a delayed entry program by—for example—documenting such training in policy or other relevant guidance to ensure compliance with section 535(a)-(b) of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2018. (Recommendation 21)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Homeland Security The Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that the Commandant of the Coast Guard publishes quarterly reports related to the processing and outcomes of claims reviewed by the Discharge Review Boards to ensure compliance with section 521(b) of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2018. (Recommendation 22)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
Department of Homeland Security The Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that the Commandant of the Coast Guard, in collaboration with the Director of Health, Safety & Work Life Directorate, establishes an oversight structure that includes mechanisms to consistently track and document implementation of ongoing and future NDAA statutory requirements related to sexual assault prevention and response to ensure compliance with applicable laws and improve oversight of its SAPR program. (Recommendation 23)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

Full Report

Additional Data

GAO Contacts