Deadline Nears to Share Stories and Ideas with Military Sexual Assault Commission

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Lynn Rosenthal and Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby deliver a briefing
Lynn Rosenthal, lead in the Department of Defense’s 90-day Independent Review Commission on sexual assault and harassment, and Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby deliver a briefing to the press at the Pentagon, March 24, 2021. (Carlos M. Vazquez II/Defense Department)

Troops and veterans have just a few more days to anonymously share their experiences and suggestions regarding sexual harassment and assault in the military with a Pentagon commission that is seeking to stop those problems.

The Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military began soliciting troops' stories and ideas online as soon as it launched March 24. In a news release last week, the Pentagon said that the commission's feedback form, which can be found here, will close June 2.

The commission plans to issue its recommendations to President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in late June, according to the Pentagon. The panel is headed by Lynn Rosenthal, an activist who focuses on stopping sexual assault and other forms of gender-based violence.

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The commission is focusing on four issues: holding perpetrators accountable, preventing sexual assault before it occurs, improving the military's climate and culture to make assault and harassment less common, and caring for and supporting victims. It hopes to produce "targeted recommendations that can lead to systemic change," the Pentagon said.

According to the release, the commission wants to find common themes and experiences by collecting survivors' and other troops' stories about what they have seen and experienced regarding sexual harassment and assault.

The stories survivors share can provide "depth, context and reality" to problems that can many times be overlooked when policies and practices are reviewed, said Kris Rose, who is helping lead the commission's victim care and support line of effort.

"Hearing from survivors of sexual harassment and sexual assault allows us to better understand diverse experiences, including with their co-workers, chain of command and the military justice system," Sasha Rutizer, a commission member focusing on accountability, said in the release.

The commission is especially focused on talking to junior enlisted service members, who are statistically most affected by sexual assault, about their experiences.

The panel is also visiting both large and small installations, and speaking with troops stateside and overseas, to make sure it talks to members of all the military services, including those in the National Guard and Reserves.

And the commission wants to know how unit climate affects whether troops feel safe and supported if they experience sexual assault and harassment.

The experience of Spc. Vanessa Guillen at Fort Hood, Texas, underscores the importance of improving climate at installations. An Army investigation confirmed that Guillen was sexually harassed by a fellow soldier before being abducted and murdered, allegedly by another service member. The Army's report said that Guillen reported being sexually harassed twice, but that her superiors did not help her.

Multiple Army leaders, including Guillen's entire chain of command, were fired or disciplined in the wake of her murder. An independent review committee blasted the base for poor leadership and climate and culture problems that led to an environment that was "permissive" of sexual assault and harassment.

-- Stephen Losey can be reached at stephen.losey@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

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