US Department of the Navy Implements Policy To Protect Sexual Assault Victims From Discipline

The Department of the Navy implemented a Safe-to-Report Policy for victims of sexual assault on June 29, eliminating a critical barrier to service members reporting sexual assault.

Practical immediately, a sailor, Marine, cadet or midshipman who makes an unrestricted report of sexual assault through the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office or the Family Advocacy Program will not be disciplined for minor collateral misconduct.

“Choosing to report a sexual assault is a major decision for a survivor,” said Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro. “It is a first step to accessing the services they need and the justice they deserve. Removing this barrier empowers victims and survivors — they should not have to choose whether to implicate themselves by reporting a crime committed against them.”

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“Collateral misconduct” refers to victim misconduct associated with the time, place or circumstance surrounding a sexual assault and is often discovered due to the report, investigation or prosecution of the sexual assault. Examples include:

  • Underage drinking at or near the time of the sexual assault;
  • An unprofessional relationship with the accused, i.e., a relationship that violated law, regulation, policy or custom at the time of the sexual assault; and
  • A violation of lawful orders establishing curfews, off-limit locations, school standards, barracks/dormitory/berthing policies, or similar matters at the time of the sexual assault.

Before implementation, there was no policy to protect victims from disciplinary action associated with their own misconduct in connection to an alleged assault. As a result, victims may have had to choose whether to implicate themselves in misconduct by reporting an assault.

“Collateral misconduct by the victim of a sexual assault is one of the most significant barriers to reporting because of the victim’s fear of punishment,” said Andrea Goldstein, assistant director, DON Force Resiliency. “We’re committed to removing barriers to reporting, restoring victim’s trust, and improving victim care.”

Under the new policy, commanding officers, in consultation with their servicing staff judge advocate, must assess whether the misconduct was collateral to a report of sexual assault and if mitigating and aggravating circumstances exist. If, after considering the circumstances, they determine that the collateral misconduct is minor, the victim shall not be disciplined. The commanding officer may, however, take non-disciplinary administrative action such as referral to substance abuse treatment.

The policy also requires data collection for the Department to understand how frequently these protections are being utilized and under what circumstances.

Reference: America’s Navy

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