April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month — first declared in 2009 by President Barack Obama. Inside the Defense Department and the Pentagon, efforts to eliminate sexual assault in the ranks isn’t limited to just a month — it’ll be a full-time effort until the problem is gone, the Pentagon press secretary said.
“April may be Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Month, but for Secretary Austin, it’s something he focuses on every day,” said John F. Kirby, during a briefing at the Pentagon today. “It is something he has repeatedly, continually talked about and stressed. So, it’s everyday here at the Pentagon.”
In February, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III announced the establishment of an independent review commission on sexual assault. According to the IRC’s charter, the commission will focus on evaluating military policies, programs and processes related to sexual assault. It will also review and assess the best practices from industry, academia and other organizations. Finally, the IRC will generate recommended policy changes and proposals to improve prevention efforts in the services.
That commission, chaired by Lynn Rosenthal, has 90-days to conduct its work before reporting back to Austin and the president. It has just recently entered the third week of its efforts.
“Just today [Rosenthal] conducted the second of what will be three engagements, virtual engagements, with … sexual assault survivors and advisory groups associated with victims and survivors, as well as military service organizations,” Kirby said. “She wanted to introduce them to the highly qualified experts that she has enlisted to join the commission.”
The IRC includes working groups focused on each of four lines of effort, including accountability, prevention, climate and culture, and victim care and support.
Eliminating sexual assault in the ranks, Kirby said, is something the department is working on full-time, not just for a month each year.
“It is something we’re pressing on every single day,” he said. “It is still a problem in the ranks, it’s still a serious threat to the men and women who serve in the United States military, and I think you’ll see Secretary Austin continue to keep the pressure on the entire time he’s in office.”