DOD Commission to Look at All Options to Combat Sexual Assault

The Pentagon’s new Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military has 90 days to find ways to combat the problem within the ranks, and the group will consider all options to address an issue that has “shattered the dreams” of many members who joined with optimism about their service.

“This commission is dedicated to the service members who suffered from sexual assault, both those who have come forward and shared their stories at great personal cost and those who suffered in silence and who continue to suffer in silence, alone and also at a great cost,” said Lynn Rosenthal, who has been appointed to lead the commission, in a Feb. 26 briefing.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, in his first official step in the position, ordered a review of the military’s overall sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention efforts. The commission’s first step will be to look at the department’s guidance, policies, and procedures. At the end of 90 days, the commission will present to Austin and President Joe Biden its recommendations to address the issue.

“All options must be on the table,” Rosenthal said. “The most pressing task facing this commission is accountability for those who have committed sexual assault. But I want to be clear that that is not the only task. We will also look at climate, culture, and prevention.

“One of the hardest things to hear when you listen to survivors talk is how hostility was conveyed by their attackers, this hostile approach to them as part of the sexual assault. And that approach was to the victim: You don’t belong here. You don’t belong in this military. No one will believe you if you talk about what happened, and you will be blamed.”

The commission wants to tell these survivors that “you do belong in this military … and it’s our job to make this climate safe for you to be here,” she said.

The commission, whose members are still being selected from a pool of military leaders, advocates, and sexual assault experts, will consult outside experts and stakeholders. One frequent suggestion to alleviate some of the related issues is to take the handling of sexual assault cases out of the chain of command. DOD officials have regularly opposed this, but Rosenthal said the commission will look at the issue “with an open mind and diverse views.”