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DOD must do more to prevent sexual assault

By Terri Moon Cronk | DOD News | July 30, 2020

WASHINGTON —

The Defense Department must do more to prevent sexual assault and encourage reporting of such crimes, the deputy director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, or SAPRO, said on Capitol Hill.

Nate Galbreath testified July 29 before the House Armed Services Committee's military personnel subcommittee in a hearing called in the wake of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen's death at Fort Hood, Texas. Guillen was found dead, and an investigation continues.

"Even with my 30 years investigating violent crime, supporting victims and counseling the wounded, nothing prepares one for something like this," Galbreath said. "The murder of Specialist Guillen has touched us all in some way, but no one feels the loss more than her family. I can only hope that the groundswell of support, love, compassion and even inspiration that comes … in Vanessa's name can bring some comfort for those who loved and knew her."

In Spanish, he added that no one should suffer as Guillen's family has suffered. 

Although harassment-policy criminal investigation in the military justice system falls outside his portfolio, Galbreath said, SAPRO is keenly aware of how these issues play a critical role in their work to prevent and respond to sexual assault, and to allow those who choose to make a report to do so without fear of retaliation. While more work remains, many of SAPRO's efforts have resulted in certain progress, he said. 

"As many of you know, the department has two key metrics in its sexual-assault program," he told the House panel. "First [is] estimated prevalence or how often crime occurs, which is the number we want to go down. Second, the number of reports [is what] we want to go up, which means that more victims are coming forward to connect with care and support services as well as [help] our efforts to hold offenders appropriately accountable," he explained. 

Data shows that the estimated prevalence rates of sexual assault in DOD have decreased by over a third over the past 14 years, Galbreath said. "And reporting of sexual assault is four times what it was in 2006," he added.

We are committed to working toward lasting, impactful, cultural change."
Nate Galbreath, deputy director, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office

However, DOD's most recent active-duty survey in 2018, showed an increase in the prevalence of sexual assault on women, he said. In addition, in that year, about 24 percent of women and 6 percent of men on active duty indicated experiencing behavior consistent with sexual harassment in the year before being surveyed.

Fear of retaliation complicates and degrades the department's efforts to encourage greater reporting of this conduct and to connect service members with restorative care, he emphasized.

"While not all behaviors perceived to be retaliatory by someone constitute retaliation that is actionable, all behaviors — actionable or not — gravely undermine our efforts in this space, and are incongruent with our expectations for dignity and respect," he said.

"To be blunt, such behaviors are absolutely unacceptable and have no place in a military that is striving for greater dignity, respect and inclusion for all," Galbreath said.

In some, achieving and sustaining progress requires continuous institutional examination, reflection and evolution, he said, adding that the Defense Department acknowledges the gap between where it is now and where it desires to be. 

"We are committed to working toward lasting, impactful, cultural change," he said.

SAPRO establishes policy and conducts oversight on efforts to assist victims of sexual assault, encourage greater reporting, empower survivors to recover and prevent the crime.