By Julian Pecquet - 12/27/11 08:11 PM EST
Military service members who have been the victim of a sexual assault now have the right to request an expedited transfer from their unit and installation, the Department of Defense announced Tuesday.
The new policy requires the service member's unit commander to respond within 72 hours and also creates a right of appeal to a higher officer if the request is denied. The Defense Department also announced the adoption of standardized retention periods of 50 years for sexual assault records in unrestricted cases.
The new policies were announced along with the release of the 2010-2011 annual report on "Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies." The latest report showed an increase in sexual assault reports over the preceding year, with a total of 65 reports of sexual assault involving cadets and midshipmen compared to 41 reports for 2009-2010.
"One sexual assault is one too many," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement. "Whether it's in our academies or our ranks, at sea or ashore, there's no place for this unacceptable behavior. We treat each other with dignity in this institution. I expect everyone in this department to live up to that high standard. This is a leadership issue, first and foremost, so I also expect us to lead with integrity and with energy to eliminate sexual assault and harassment from our culture. I'm confident the steps we are taking are the right ones, but we must continue to improve."