Honoring Active and Veteran Survivors of Sexual Misconduct

Three women in military uniform smiling and talking too one another

Veteran’s Day is just one of the opportunities throughout the year to recognize the people who have and are serving the United States Armed Forces. RALIANCE believes Veteran’s Day is also a good time to reflect on how the military has and can better serve its members who sacrifice so much for the country—particularly when it comes to supporting and helping survivors of sexual assault with their healing journeys.

In recent years, steps have been taken to center survivors and address sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse, including:

-At the end of 2021, the House and Senate reached an agreement to remove prosecutorial authority from military commanders. Now, prosecution of sexual assault and other crimes will be executed by independent military prosecutors. This reduces the inherent conflict of interest of having someone too close to the people involved make a determination about consequences.

-This summer, the military implemented the Safe-to-Report policy, which protects survivors from disciplinary action of their behaviors associated with the sexual assault crime—for example if a survivor was participating in underage drinking or in an improper relationship when the assault occurred. This means the assault will be treated as the crime and not any tangential behaviors that may prevent victims from coming forward. 

-Earlier this year when the Supreme Court rolled back Roe v. Wade, the Pentagon made it clear that they would continue to support service members who needed to terminate a pregnancy. This month, they released a memo reinforcing their commitment to guarantee access to reproductive care. This action ensures a suite of tools remain available to help support and protect survivors who are seeking safe abortion services and reproductive health care.

Despite the range of efforts, sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse persist. This September, The Department of Defense released the 2021 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military. The results showed that among active-duty personnel, 8.4% of women and 1.5% of men dealt with one or more incidents of unwanted sexual contact. There was also a 29% increase in sexual harassment from 2018 to 2021—an all-time high.

There is no single answer for why this corrosive behavior persists, but RALIANCE’s research and evaluation director David S. Lee previously testified to Congress about how the culture of the military may perpetuate poor behavior, but can also be used to help make changes. In his 2019 testimony David said, “The armed services are value-based entities – they are dedicated to building a common culture dedicated to fulfilling their mission. While this culture can reinforce norms that support domestic violence (such as male domination, rewarding physical aggression and using unit cohesion to fail to address sexual violence), the armed services have the opportunity to create a culture in which domestic violence is not tolerated, where bystanders speak up to support their fellow armed service members in preventing violence and harassment (not in colluding).”

After the report 2021 Annual Report was released, the Department of Defense released a statement highlighting the ways they are moving ahead on recommendations that will help reduce instances of sexual assault. In addition to a framework that will track implementation and effectiveness of initiatives and programs, they are also building up a strong workforce specifically dedicated to handling sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse. For more information and resources, please visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s Military Sexual Trauma Resource List.

Every person deserves to feel safe at work and among their colleagues. Hopefully, the confluence of strategies from military and government officials will accelerate progress in addressing and stamping out sexual harassment and assault in the military.

RALIANCE is a trusted adviser for organizations committed to building cultures that are safe, equitable, and respectful. RALIANCE offers unparalleled expertise in serving survivors of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse which drives our mission to help organizations across sectors create inclusive environments for all. For more information, please visit www.RALIANCE.org.


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