Defense Department Launches STEP FORWARD Campaign for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

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Defense Department Stresses Zero Tolerance Policy for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Defense Department Stresses Zero Tolerance Policy for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Apr 29, 2022

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAM), and Dordulian Law Group is highlighting various programs and initiatives to help raise awareness and prevent sexual violence. One such campaign was recently announced by the Department of Defense (DOD).

Defense Department Launches STEP FORWARD Campaign for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

The DOD’s STEP FORWARD campaign “is a call to action for everyone in the Department to do their part to prevent sexual assault and encourage greater assistance seeking,” according to the organization’s website.

In the sections below, we will look at the issue of sexual assault and abuse in the U.S. Military, review the recently announced STEP FORWARD campaign in detail, and discuss how to file a civil claim to recover financial compensation in the event of a sex crime.

How Common is Sexual Assault in the U.S. Military?

In a February blog, we noted that sexual assault reports at U.S. military academies had increased significantly during the 2020-2021 school year. This upward trend in sexual assault allegations was confirmed despite “an influx of new sexual assault prevention and treatment programs,” according to the Associated Press (AP).

A Defense Department report released in February confirmed the following:

  • Claims of sexual assault increased by 25%.
  • Claims of sexual harassment increased by 150% at U.S. military academies during the latest academic year (when compared to the previous academic year).

Additionally, the Defense Department’s Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies indicated the following troubling statistics:

  • 161 reports of sexual assault were received compared to 129 reports the previous academic year (an increase of 32 reports).
  • A total of 30 complaints of sexual harassment were made during the 2020-2021 academic year compared to 12 reports the year before (an increase of 18).

The report collects information from all three U.S. military academies for the academic year beginning June 1, 2020, and concluding May 31, 2021. Those academies include:

  • The U.S. Military Academy
  • The U.S. Naval Academy
  • The U.S. Air Force Academy

Of the 161 reports of sexual assault where cadets and midshipmen attending the military academies were the victim or alleged offender:

  • 131 were from people reporting incidents that occurred during military service
  • 14 reports were from incidents that occurred prior to military service
  • 16 reports were made by “active-duty service members, civilians, or prep school students”
  • Of the 30 sexual harassment complaints made in the 2020-2021 academic year:
  • Nine were formal complaints
  • 21 were informal complaints

The Defense Department report further stated that the reason for the substantial increase in sexual assault and harassment claims was “unclear.” However, the report also confirmed that the Defense Department “did not administer a scientific prevalence survey this year.”

What is the Department of Defense Doing to Combat Sexual Violence?

Earlier this month, the Department of Defense launched its STEP FORWARD campaign to coincide with National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The theme of this year’s program is:

STEP FORWARD. Prevent. Report. Advocate.

According to the DOD’s website, the STEP FORWARD campaign is a call to action for everyone in the Department to do their part to prevent sexual assault and encourage greater assistance seeking.

The DOD further notes that National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month is commemorated every April by both civilian and military communities. DOD observes SAAM to emphasize the link between military readiness and healthy unit climate.

Furthermore, over a decade of research from the DOD confirms:

  • Sexual assault occurs less often in units where members support and respect each other.
  • Sticking up for someone who is being hazed, bullied, harassed, or abused sends a strong message that helps improve climates.

We are all very different people that come together in the service of our country. The STEP FORWARD campaign recognizes that each of us in the military community can take action to make our units safer,” Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office Acting Director, Dr. Nate Galbreath, said. “Prevention starts with recognizing that our day to day interactions, when respectful, can snowball into making the military a great place to work and live.

Elizabeth Foster, Executive Director of the Office of Force Resiliency, added:

We are laser focused on change that benefits our people and our military’s effectiveness. The destructive impact of a sexual assault is felt at the individual level and beyond, and threatens the readiness of our troops. I ask every member of our DOD community to support the STEP FORWARD campaign. Make it your business to encourage acts that help prevent sexual assault, increase reporting, and advocate for a safer, respectful workplace. Our mission demands it.

New Defense Department Action Coincides With Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Earlier this month, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks provided remarks at the National Discussion on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at America’s Colleges, Universities, and Service Academies.

At the Department of Defense, combating sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military is a high priority for [Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III] and me. Doing so not only ensures that our service members serve in a healthy organizational climate – which bolsters our readiness – but it is also the right thing to do,” the deputy secretary said.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin established an independent review commission last year and charged it with developing recommendations on how to advance efforts to counter military sexual assault and harassment.

The independent body of experts, together with hundreds of individuals from across the department, produced an evidence-based, comprehensive report with more than 80 recommendations.

We are now in the process of implementing all of the Independent Review Commission’s recommendations, and we are developing metrics to track our progress in doing so,” Hicks said.

Some of the department’s areas of focus include:

  • Reforming the military justice system
  • Establishing a dedicated and specialized violence prevention workforce
  • Redesigning how DOD staffs, resources, and professionalizes the sexual assault response workforce

At the National Discussion on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at America’s Colleges, Universities, and Service Academies, Hicks highlighted three areas of DOD action now underway to change culture and behavior:

  • DOD aims to empower its service members with the knowledge, skills and training to prevent, recognize, report and respond to sexual harassment.
  • Across the department, the staff is working hard to ensure healthy practices in its military workplaces. This means promoting inclusive environments across units and offices and targeting risk factors and negative cultures that lead to sexual assault, harassment and other readiness-impacting behaviors.
  • DOD is taking steps to strengthen leadership-prevention competence.

The department also recently released the 2021 on-site installation evaluation report, which reflects a new and now-recurring effort that will help leaders up and down the chain of command identify key information to improve command climates. This will not only help to prevent sexual assault and harassment, but also prevent other harmful behaviors, such as suicide,” Hicks said.

Regarding the steps being taken to strengthen leadership-prevention competence, Hicks noted, “This means training and selecting leaders who are not only committed to building and growing healthy climates, but to also demonstrate the skills we need to effectively prevent and respond to reports of sexual violence.”

Whether you are in higher education considering military service or civilian employment, just beginning your career at DOD, or a seasoned leader, prevention is truly an all-hands effort that begins with you,” she added.

Secretary of the Air Force Issues Proclamation During SAAM 2022

Earlier this week, during a ceremony at the Pentagon, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall signed a proclamation reaffirming the Department of the Air Force’s commitment to preventing sexual assault and sexual harassment, as well as supporting sexual assault survivors.

Kendall also announced a new provision to the Department’s leave policy that enables sexual assault survivors to take up to 30 days of non-chargeable leave as they seek resources to support their recovery.

There is no higher priority than taking care of our Airmen, Guardians and their families,” Kendall said. “April’s observance of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month offers an opportunity to take stock of our efforts and recommit ourselves to ending sexual violence and supporting survivors. Our core values require it, and we have to stay focused on this topic year-round to meet the obligations we share with those whom we serve alongside.”

According to the Air Force website, officials are implementing the ‘Safe-to-Report‘ policy, pioneered at the U.S. Air Force Academy, which removes barriers to reporting by eliminating punishment for minor collateral misconduct such as underage drinking. Many other ongoing actions are linked to the Department of Defense’s Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military, including:

  • Developing a plan to ensure an independent reporting structure for Sexual Assault and Response Coordinators. This structure will provide independent oversight and empower SARCs to best support survivors while still maintaining direct access to commanders.
  • Enabling sexual harassment survivors’ access to advocacy support from Sexual Assault Prevention and Response victim advocates.
  • Increasing full-time victim advocates to strengthen the response workforce available to ensure critical support and care of victims.
  • Researching prevention training initiatives including a Sexual Communication and Consent Program at basic military training, designed to increase military trainees’ understanding of consent and sexual assault.

Each member of our team shares in the enduring responsibility to eliminate sexual assault and harassment from our ranks,” Kendall added. “I urge every Airman, Guardian, and Department civilian to treat each other with dignity and respect, hold others accountable to our high standards of conduct, and to take care of your teammates.

How Does California SB 352 Impact Military Sex Crimes?

California Senate Bill 352 was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on September 16, 2021, and officially took effect on January 1 of this year. Prior to the passage of SB 352, sexual assault or harassment could not be prosecuted within the U.S. Military – either criminally or civilly.

With SB 352 now in effect, sexual assault and harassment are considered stand-alone offenses under California’s incorporation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. SB 352 effectively removes any question over whether sexual assault or harassment are punishable within California’s military ranks.

As an article co-authored by the Lieutenant Governor of California, Eleni Kounalakis, and State Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman noted in July:

The bill’s message of zero tolerance for sexual harassment conveys an important message to both victims (who might be less likely to report sexual harassment without clear indication that it is a punishable offense) and potential perpetrators.

Section 1 of SB 352 includes the following language (sections D and E):

  • Eradicating sexual harassment within our military forces is the next step in ensuring that California remains the leader in providing unparalleled protections to members of the military.
  • The California Military Department is among the best in the nation at implementing a robust Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program. Making sexual harassment a standalone offense will allow Commanders in the California National Guard to lead the nation in proactive sexual assault prevention by giving them a tool to discipline or remove from the ranks service members guilty of sexual harassment before their misconduct can escalate to sexual assault.

Additionally, SB 352 clarifies that sex crimes committed by military members while on duty are not protected from civil or criminal liability. Furthermore, the bill requires that statistical data from the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Report – a database for documenting sex crimes – be released.

The full text of California SB 352 is available here.

How to Report Sexual Assault in the U.S. Military

If you or someone you know in the Department of Defense community has experienced sexual assault, the DOD Safe Helpline is available 24/7 for anonymous, one-on-one support via 877- 995-5247 or SafeHelpline.org/live-chat.

Contact a Los Angeles, California, Military Sexual Assault Lawyer Today

Survivors of military sexual assault may wish to bring a civil lawsuit in an effort to recover financial compensation for various types of losses. Depending on the circumstances your sex crime, Dordulian Law Group (DLG) will pursue various compensatory damages through a civil claim.

Examples of some common damages that may be secured through a military sexual assault or abuse civil claim include:

  • Hospital or medical expenses
  • Counseling or therapy expenses
  • Emotional trauma
  • Psychological distress
  • Lost wages
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Diminished quality of life
  • Pain and suffering

Contact our top-rated team of expert sexual abuse attorneys online or by phone today to pursue justice and secure a financial award for damages.

DLG is a leading California sexual assault firm representing survivors across the United States. Founded by former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, Sam Dordulian, DLG offers survivors a unique type of legal representation which includes a four-tiered team of professionals known as the SAJE Team.

DLG’s trusted military sexual assault lawyers have helped countless survivors secure maximum financial damages awards.

Some of our recent sexual assault civil lawsuit victories include:

For a free, no obligation, and confidential consultation regarding your military sexual assault civil claim, contact a member of DLG’s SAJE Team today at 818-322-4056. Our California sexual assault attorneys have helped victims recover more than $100,000,000 in settlements and verdicts while maintaining a 98% success record.


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