WASHINGTON -- The Air Force recently adopted two new measures to eliminate sexual assault from within the ranks, including requiring discharge for Airmen who commit sexual assault, and requiring the Air Force's most senior commanders to review actions taken on these cases.
According to Capt. Allison DeVito, chief of JAG's victim issues and policy branch, both of the recent changes are part of the Air Force's initiative to combat sexual assault and to foster mutual respect and dignity among fellow Airmen.
When combined with existing programs, the Air Force's efforts to end sexual assault and support those who report it have been increasing significantly throughout the past year. At the same time, the Air Force is experiencing a surge in its prosecution rates for sexual assault, with similar results being shared by other services.
DeVito explained that, as of July 2, after completing any disciplinary action for sexual assault, commanders must initiate administrative discharge processing for any Airman, officer or enlisted, found to have committed a sexual assault offense.
This new requirement, which covers a wide-range of sex offenses, is triggered by a finding that the Airman committed the offense.
Once a commander has information alleging that an Airman has committed a sexual assault offense, the commander must promptly refer the case to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
If the commander believes that the evidence uncovered in the investigation substantiated the allegation, then the commander will take appropriate criminal or administrative action, and following that, he must process the offender for administrative discharge.
In addition to the recent policy change, DeVito said a new provision explicitly states that an Airman, who engaged in an unprofessional relationship while serving in a special position of trust, such as a recruiter or military training instructor, is also subject to administrative discharge.
Airmen, who are involuntarily separated from the Air Force under these provisions, may receive a discharge under "other than honorable" conditions. DeVito added that another change made to the discharge process requires that an Airman be advised of his right to request review by a general officer. The case can be reviewed if the Airman believes the commander's recommendation for involuntary separation was initiated in retaliation for having made an unrestricted report of a sexual assault within the previous 12 months. This change further eliminates any perception that an Airman, who reports a sexual assault, may be subject to discharge simply for reporting.
Also on the books, effective June 27th, the Under Secretary of the Air Force directed that any commander who makes a disciplinary decision regarding an Airman who commits a sexual assault, must report that decision to his servicing general court-martial convening authority, who has attained the rank of brigadier general or higher. The general court-martial convening authority will then review the intended disposition and take any further action he deems appropriate.
This change also requires that the general court-martial convening authority must review the case and its disposition after all disciplinary and administrative action is completed and must report the actions taken in the case to AFOSI in writing. Upon receipt of this report of command action, AFOSI will close out the investigative file by attaching a copy of the report of command action to the case file.
DeVito said that, to date, 369 service members, of which are mostly Airmen, have received legal services from an Air Force SVC. These SVCs are attending interviews by AFOSI, the prosecution and defense counsel. They are also attending trials of subjects with the victim-client, assisting victims in obtaining expedited transfers, and helping victims receive military protective orders to ensure the assailant does not contact the victim except as needed to prepare for trial. Currently, the Air Force is the only service providing SVCs to service members.
"Sexual assault has no place in our Air Force," said Gen. Mark Welsh III, Chief of Staff of the Air Force. "We live in a culture of respect. We cherish our core values of integrity, service, and excellence. But in order to ensure all Airmen experience and benefit from those values, we must eliminate sexual assault in our ranks."