- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The military will begin providing more confidentiality to people who file sexual-assault charges, in a policy change designed to persuade more victims to come forward, Pentagon officials said yesterday.

The change is one of several being fashioned by the Pentagon after a rash of reports of sexual assaults in the Iraq theater of war, the Air Force Academy and elsewhere in the military.

Under current policy, the only officer who can promise confidentiality to a victim is a chaplain, said David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

The military proposes to extend that power to certain medical personnel and victim’s advocates and to prevent the commanding officer and others from learning the victim’s identity without consent.

“The lack of privacy and confidentiality for service members to report a sexual assault without triggering an investigation has, in many instances, proven to be a barrier to encouraging victims to come forward for a host of reasons, including intimidation, embarrassment and the fear of ruining one’s reputation,” Mr. Chu said.

The change would allow victims to seek medical treatment without automatically causing an investigation. If someone chose to cooperate with an investigation, more people would have access to that person’s identity, particularly if the issue reached a court-martial, officials said.

The military also plans to standardize its definitions of sexual assault, harassment and other crimes throughout the services and to create coordinator positions to manage sexual-assault cases. It also will augment training on those issues, Mr. Chu said.

Air Force Brig. Gen. K.C. McClain, who was assigned in September to oversee the Pentagon’s sexual-assault policy, said the changes should help but were not a “silver bullet.”

“There is no overnight solution, and to do this right, it is going to take time,” she said.

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