The commission is also recommending investigating sexual harassment claims outside the chain of command and immediately beginning the process of discharging a service member from the military if a charge is deemed credible.
These are just the first set of recommendations, the official stressed, with more expected from the commission’s work on Prevention and Climate & Culture. Austin will review the recommendations with military leaders before making any final decisions.
The commission is led by Lynn Rosenthal, who served as the first White House adviser on violence against women, and is made up of 12 members, including civilian prosecutors, prevention specialists, advocates and more. Asked last month what makes this sexual assault commission different, Rosenthal said, “This is not a closed door. The secretary and the President have said all options should be on the table.”
Other recommendations include streamlining the process for victims to obtain a protective order and setting a fixed timeline for the investigation and judicial process.
For years, the problem has attracted the attention of Capitol Hill, where frustration has sometimes boiled over at the lack of progress. In Austin’s confirmation hearing in January, Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York expressed her skepticism.
“Every secretary of defense from the last 25 years has said there is a zero tolerance for sexual assault in the military,” Gillibrand said at the time. “But every time they say there’s zero tolerance, we look at the facts, we look at the evidence, we look at how many sexual assaults are committed, how many go to trial, how many end in conviction. And we don’t seem to improve at all.”
Gillibrand and others have long argued for moving the process of investigating sexual assaults away from the chain of command and the immediate unit where the alleged crime took place, so senior officers are not making decisions about those who may be working under them. Victims and advocates argue that if victims and alleged perpetrators remain working in close proximity after allegations are made, it scares many victims into silence about the sexual assault or sexual harassment.