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Pentagon launches civilian-led commission to address military sexual assault

Pentagon launches civilian-led commission to address military sexual assault
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The Pentagon on Friday launched a civilian-led commission to address the pervasive problem of sexual assault in the military.

The Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault, ordered by President BidenJoe BidenBiden eyes bigger US role in global vaccination efforts Trump says GOP will take White House in 2024 in prepared speech Kemp: Pulling All-Star game out of Atlanta will hurt business owners of color MORE, will take 90 days to review Defense Department policies and processes already in place to address the issue and then give recommendations directly to the commander in chief.

Lynn Rosenthal, formerly the first-ever White House adviser on violence against women and a well-known gender violence expert, will lead the effort.

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“This effort, this commission, is dedicated to those service members who’ve suffered from sexual assault,” Rosenthal told reporters on Friday at the Pentagon. “Both those who have come forward and shared their stories at great personal cost, and those who’ve suffered in silence and who continue to suffer in silence alone, and also at great cost.”

She said the most pressing task would be to assign accountability for those who had committed sexual assault, but that the commission would 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 a part of the sexual assault,” Rosenthal said. “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.’ ”

She acknowledged that “all options should be on the table” in addressing the problem, including long-pressed suggestions to place an independent civilian office in charge of investigating and prosecuting a reported sexual assault, instead of the chain of command. She would not say if she personally backed such an idea, only that the commission will “very carefully examine” it.

Rosenthal also said the commission is engaged in outreach efforts to lawmakers, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who for years has tried to attach an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would take away from military commanders the decision to prosecute sexual assault and other serious crimes, and give that authority to independent military prosecutors.

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“We’re going to look with an open mind and diverse views on this question of the chain of command, without a doubt. And the secretary has said that himself,” Rosenthal said.

Few details were given as to who else will sit on the commission, though Rosenthal said it would be made up of current and former military leaders, sexual assault advocates and sexual assault experts.

Members will likely travel to installations and use online resources to encourage service members to share their experiences and offer suggestions.

She expected an initial round of recommendations within 60 days but stressed that it is the “first step.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense: Biden proposes 3B defense budget | Criticism comes in from left and right | Pentagon moves toward new screening for extremists The paradox of US-India relations Pentagon chief to visit Europe, Israel amid tensions with Russia, Iran MORE has made it clear that tackling military sexual assault and harassment is one of his top priorities in his new role.

In addition to the newly established commission, Austin has directed “immediate actions” to bring the Pentagon into compliance “with evidence-based practices to ensure accountability of sexual assault and harassment efforts at every level of the total force,” top Defense spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday.

Austin also participated in a virtual roundtable on Tuesday along with Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonoughDenis Richard McDonoughCongress must address the toxic exposure our veterans have endured Veterans shouldn't have to wait for quality care The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation - CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality MORE to speak with sexual assault survivors and advocates.