In one of his first actions as defense secretary, Lloyd Austin is ordering his top generals to report on the measures they're taking to prevent sexual assault and harassment in the ranks -- and how they know they're working.
On Saturday, Austin sent a memo to senior Pentagon leaders, combatant commanders and heads of other defense agencies and field activities giving them just two weeks to provide a detailed report that includes oversight measures they've implemented and data on how effective current prevention efforts have been.
"President [Joe] Biden has ordered a 90-day commission to pursue solutions to sexual assault in the military," Austin wrote. "We will aggressively support that effort. But I do not want to wait 90 days to take action."
By Feb. 5, according to the memo, commanders must provide "a summary of the sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention and accountability measures ... taken in the last year that show promise, as well as a frank, data-driven assessment of those which do not."
The report, Austin wrote, should focus on oversight of programs intended to ensure they're being implemented fully and with fidelity.
"Please ensure this assessment includes relevant data over the past decade, victim support efforts and advocacy," he said.
The Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, who will consolidate the commander's findings, will also be responsible for providing Austin with data regarding broader initiatives for prevention of all violence in the ranks.
"Include in your report consideration of novel approaches to any of these areas you believe might prove fruitful," he said. "While we must ensure our approach is data-driven, we must not be afraid to get creative."
Sexual assault and harassment in the ranks have been a troubling constant in the military for many years. Despite much-publicized prevention efforts within each service, sexual assault and harassment reports actually rose from 2019 to 2020, according to data released last April.
The murder of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen last year, allegedly by a fellow soldier, has also put a spotlight on the issue. Guillen's family claims she said she was being sexually harassed before disappearing from Fort Hood, Texas in April 2020.
In his confirmation hearing, Austin promised he'd "fight hard to stamp out sexual assault" in the ranks. Biden also promised on the campaign trail in 2020 to get tough on military sexual assault if elected.
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.