A Pentagon task force that was announced last week will examine sexual assault in the ranks — and it will do it quickly.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan wants a report from the new Sexual Assault Accountability and Investigation Task Force by Wednesday. Shanahan ordered the task force into existence last month after congressional committees grilled him on reports that unwanted sexual contact was on the rise at military service academies, including the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
He announced the task force in a memo released by the Pentagon last week.
“The results of the 2018 Report on Sexual Assault and Harassment in the Military Academies are unacceptable, and I am resolved that we will do all we can as a Department to address sexual assault in our military,” Shanahan wrote in a memo to service chiefs and other leaders.
Shanahan wants the group to “explore new opportunities to enhance the military justice system.” Some advocacy groups and congressional leaders have blamed the military’s internal legal process for exacerbating sexual assault issues. One proposed solution is to hand sexual assault cases to civilian federal prosecutors, taking the military out of the loop.
The congressional ire follows a Pentagon report that found the number of women at academies facing unwanted sexual contact has increased in recent years while the number of reported assaults has dropped, from 33 in 2017 to 29 last year.
That has been interpreted to mean that women don’t trust the military to handle their complaints.
Service academy leaders have held a summit on sexual violence, and the Air Force Academy took things a step further last week, with a day dedicated to raising awareness of sexual assaults among cadets. The school’s 4,000 cadets last Wednesday wore jeans as a uniform as part of Denim Day, held on campuses across the globe to support sexual assault victims.
Academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria has huddled with other service academy chiefs in recent weeks to mull new efforts to combat sexual assaults in the ranks.
Shanahan said he wants to redouble efforts to stamp out sexual assault.
“Our approach to eliminate sexual assault is holistic and includes efforts to prevent this crime, support and care for our victims, and ensure a robust and comprehensive military justice process,” he wrote.
Shanahan is likely going to remove the “acting” from his title soon. Insiders expect President Donald Trump to nominate him to take the secretary job outright. He’s worked in the acting secretary role since Jan. 1, when he took over from James Mattis, who quit over differences with the White House.
The fact that Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, is likely the new permanent boss at the Pentagon puts additional power behind the task force and more pressure on services to come up with solutions to sexual assault before Congress mandates changes.
“The importance of this work cannot be overstated,” Shanahan wrote.
“We have an opportunity to underscore the integrity of our military justice system and advance our capability to address sexual misconduct against the men and women of our armed forces.”
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240 Twitter: @xroederx