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Serving Victims in the Military

Military Sexual Assault Policy

DoD's sexual assault policy, which is overseen by the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, covers the following issues, among others:

The Right Tool

Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office Web Site Provides information for victims of sexual assault, unit commanders, first responders, and others who want to prevent or respond to this crime. Sections include law and policies, publications, research, training, and multimedia content.

Interagency Collaboration

DoD emphasizes a multidisciplinary approach to sexual assault that includes medical, legal, faith-based, advocacy, and mental health personnel. The collaborative efforts include partnerships with law enforcement personnel, criminal investigators, chaplains, family advocacy personnel, emergency room personnel, judge advocates, unit commanding officers, and corrections personnel.88

The DoD sexual assault policy also mandates that the military services collaborate with civilian service providers, as necessary.

Reporting Options

The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office's goals are to create climates that keep the incidence of sexual assault to a minimum and, if incidents should occur, to ensure that victims and offenders are treated according to Armed Forces policy. In addition, victims are encouraged to report incidents of sexual assault without fear. Although DoD prefers complete reporting, it recognizes that some victims want only medical and support services without command or law enforcement involvement.

DoD provides victims with two reporting options:

  • Restricted reporting allows a victim of sexual assault to confidentially disclose the details of the assault to specified individuals and receive medical treatment and counseling without triggering the official investigative process. Specified individuals include sexual assault response coordinators, victim advocates, health care providers, and chaplains. For purposes of public safety and command responsibility, sexual assault response coordinators will notify the installation commander that an assault has occurred and will provide details that will not identify the victim.
  • Unrestricted reporting is recommended for victims of sexual assault who want medical treatment, counseling, and an official investigation of the crime. Military retirees, dependents, and other civilian victims currently may only use unrestricted reporting.

Essentially, the confidentiality policy provides victims with increased control over the release and management of their personal information. Having choices in reporting can empower victims to seek information and support so they can make more informed decisions about participating in the criminal investigation. Jurisdictions with similar policies have found that confidentiality actually leads to increased reporting rates. Even if the victim chooses not to pursue an official investigation, these reporting options give commanders a clearer picture of the sexual violence within their command and enhance their ability to provide an environment that is safe and that contributes to the well-being and mission-readiness of all of its members.

Collateral Misconduct

The military has affirmatively addressed issues emerging from cases in which victims' behaviors may be subject to criminal/disciplinary actions. Issues of collateral misconduct are addressed in a manner that is consistent and appropriate to the circumstances. For example, some victims of sexual assault in the Army are hesitant to report assaults when doing so could potentially lead to disciplinary action against them for related offenses, such as drug or alcohol use that are related to the assault. Commanders now have the option to delay action on any victim misconduct related to an assault until after the investigation and prosecution for the assault is complete. This approach is designed to encourage victims to continue to cooperate in the investigation of their sexual assaults.89

Protecting Victims

To protect sexual assault victims, commanders may decide to separate victims and the alleged offenders, but they should first determine whether victims want to be transferred to different units (some may feel revictimized if they are transferred). They may also assist victims with military protective orders.90  


Veterans, both women and men, may have experienced sexual trauma while they served on active military duty. Many have never discussed the incident or their medical or psychological condition with anyone. Yet they know that they have "not felt the same" since the trauma occurred.

Health care professionals at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are sensitive to the aftereffects of sexual trauma and the impact it can have on a person's physical and emotional health. They understand the feelings of fear, anxiety, shame, anger, and embarrassment that victims can experience.

The VA provides eligible veterans with confidential counseling and treatment for the aftereffects of sexual trauma. In addition to counseling, related health care services also are available at VA medical facilities. It is important to know that counseling for sexual trauma can be provided regardless of whether the veteran ever reported the incident. Visit Women Veterans Health Care for more information.

Sexual Assault Reporting in the Military Is Increasing

Violence against women remains a serious and rising problem in the military, although Pentagon officials say an increase in reports from 2008 to 2009 may be due in part to a new social marketing campaign that discusses reporting. According to Fiscal Year 2009 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military: Report Summary, there were 3,230 reports of sexual assault, representing an 11-percent increase from 2008.