Late Breaking News
House Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Sexual Assault in the Military
- Categorized in: March 2009 Issue
WASHINGTON—Allowing sexual assault victims the option of “restricted reporting” is credited for getting victims to step forward and access medical care who may not have otherwise, a top Department of Defense ofﬁcial told a House subcommittee last month.
“Since the policy began [in 2005] we have had 1,896 victims come forward with a restricted report [through FY 2007]. That tells me that it is a good thing. That tells me that is 1,896 people who got help and the care that they needed,” Kaye Whitley, Ph.D., director of DoD’s Sexual Assault and Response Ofﬁce (SAPRO), told the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee at a hearing on sexual assault in the military.
In 2005, DoD updated its sexual assault policies to help get more victims to report crimes of sexual assault and seek care. As part of that effort, it developed an avenue for victims to get access to medical care without the involvement of law enforcement, a process known as restricted reporting.
When a victim chooses the option of restricted reporting they can seek medical care without any details of the assault provided to a healthcare provider or other personnel being given to law enforcement. The sexual assault evidence is held for one year and victims can later convert to an unrestricted report and initiate an ofﬁcial investigation if they wish. Of the 1,896 restricted reports that DoD received by the end of FY 2007, 10 percent converted to unrestricted reports allowing an investigation.
Prior to implementing this option, sexual assault victims in the military could not access medical care or advocacy services without the involvement of law enforcement and the command. The lack of conﬁdential reporting was believed by DoD to be a barrier for military sexual assault victims to receive medical care and report the crime.
Teresa Scalzo, senior policy advisor for SAPRO, told the subcommittee that one of the considerations in initiating the policy was honoring the victim’s privacy while making sure that commanders had the information they needed to keep others safe. In order to accomplish both, the commanders are given nonidentifying information about the sexual assault.
“In the military, it is a culture where commanders need to know, and they do know everything that is going on underneath them,” Scalzo said. “It was difﬁcult to construct a system where we could protect the victims’ privacy, but yet give [commanders] just a little bit of information—Jane Doe information, nonidentifying information—that would enable them to keep the community safe.”
Challenges for Sexual Assault Victims
Scalzo said that there are challenges with restricted reporting that SAPRO is trying to address. For example, if a victim reports the sexual assault to a friend who then reports it to the commander, the commander would by law have to report the assault to law enforcement.
Another challenge for victims who would like to use restricted reporting is that some state laws only allow for unrestricted reporting. Victims in those states do not have the option to access private medical care and treatment, either on or off base, without triggering the involvement of law enforcement. California law, for example, requires healthcare providers to make a report to law enforcement when they treat a physical injury that was the result of an assault or abuse.
In her written testimony, Dr. Whitley said that there are also challenges in access to medical care for Reserve members who are sexually assaulted. Reserve members who are sexually assaulted when on active duty, but are no longer activated when they decide to make a restricted report, need a Line of Duty (LOD) determination before they can obtain access to care and treatment.
“The LOD is a process for determining whether a member of the Reserve component is eligible for medical care at government expense due to an injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated while in an ‘activated’ military duty status,” Dr. Whitley said in written testimony. “The LOD process requires an investigation and the involvement of command, which directly conﬂicts with restricted reporting. This limitation to access of care and treatment is inconsistent with the DoD sexual assault prevention and response policy on restricted reporting. We are in the process of eliminating this barrier to restricted reporting for the Guard and Reserves.”
During congressional questioning, Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., wanted to know whether military doctors are subjected to California’s law regarding restricted reporting.
“Are you telling me that anytime a doctor is transferred to another base that they have to go through state licensing departments?” Rep. Snyder asked.
“No, sir, but the opinion that we have gotten through our ofﬁce of general counsel is that because the state of California has that law that on base our doctors in California are not comfortable with conﬁdential reporting because it violates state law,” Scalzo replied.
Rep. Snyder said that this was something that could be legislatively pre-empted, if Congress chose to do so. “We do have the option legislatively I would think if we chose to of preempting that California statute, but that may not be the solution,” he said.
Subcommittee member Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., said that she was concerned that the use of restricted reporting may allow those who are committing sexual assaults to not be held accountable. “This is a wonderful process for the victim, it allows them to get access to the kind of help that they need, but short of those that don’t convert to unrestricted it means that a signiﬁcant number of people who have committed these assaults are not accountable,” she said.
Dr. Whitley responded that the department must do everything it can to ensure that women who are victims can step forward to receive care without having to report the incident. The hope is that these victims who choose restricted reporting will convert to unrestricted reporting, she said.
“There is research that shows that early intervention after any trauma can prevent PTSD,” Dr. Whitley said. “So we are doing everything we can to get that victim to come forth so they can access care. We do hope they will convert [to unrestricted reporting]. We hope that we are making them so comfortable and have so much conﬁdence in our system that they will convert to an unrestricted report.”
Even when victims choose unrestricted reporting, they still may incur many emotional challenges, according to Capt. Daniel Katka, a sexual assault response coordinator (SARC) in the Air Force.
“It is estimated that 25 to 35 times from start to ﬁnish through courts and such you will have to tell your story,” Capt. Katka told the subcommittee. “That is extremely draining and perhaps retraumatizing and revictimizing. In that setting, right now, it is difﬁcult once that ball gets rolling for that survivor to say, ‘You know, I want to stop.’ There are times in my personal experience where an individual had originally signed unrestricted and then later on as they go through it, it is tough on them and they say, ‘You know I really wish I could put the brakes on this.’”