We determined whether victims of sexual assault by military personnel that occurred in the United States were consulted on their preference for prosecuting offenses by court-martial or in a civilian court with jurisdiction over the offense and whether the victims’ preference was documented. This audit was initiated in response to requirements in the House Armed Services Committee report that accompanied the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. As part of our audit, we reviewed 82 of 173 cases of alleged adult sexual assault or an attempt to commit adult sexual assault between October 1, 2016, and June 30, 2018, at Fort Hood, Texas; Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia; Joint Base San Antonio, Texas; and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.
The FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act requires DoD officials to consult with victims of alleged sexual assaults that occur in the United States. Specifically, DoD officials are required to ask the victims about their preference regarding whether the offense should be prosecuted by court-martial or in a civilian court with jurisdiction over the offense. DoD officials should consider what the victim wants when deciding whether to prosecute by court-martial or in a civilian court, although they are not required to comply with the victim’s preference.
In 77 of the 82 cases we reviewed, officials at Fort Hood, Naval Station Norfolk, Joint Base San Antonio, and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton either did not ask or did not document that they asked victims of sexual assault about their preference for prosecution. Of the 77 cases, the victims in 21 cases were not asked their preference for prosecution. For the remaining 56 of 77 cases, Military Service officials stated that the victims were asked, however they could not provide evidence of what the victims’ preference was. This occurred for the following reasons.
- The DoD did not establish a DoD-wide process to ensure that victims of alleged sexual assaults were asked about their preference for prosecution or to ensure that their preference was documented.
- The DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office does not track whether victims were asked about their preference for prosecution.
- The Military Services issued guidance that required that victims be asked about their preference for prosecution but the policy does not require that the victims’ preference be documented.
As a result, victims of sexual assault were denied the opportunity to state their preference for how their cases were prosecuted for 21 of the 77 cases we reviewed. For the remaining 56 cases, Military Service officials provided insufficient documentation showing whether the victims were consulted on their preference for prosecuting offenses.
We recommend that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness develop and implement guidance requiring the Military Services to document that the victim was asked about the preference for prosecution and when and what the victim’s preference was. Such guidance should clearly specify exceptions or state that there are no exceptions to the consultation or documentation requirement.
Management Comments and Our Response
The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, responding for the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, generally agreed with the recommendation, stating that the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness will consult with the Military Departments to develop and implement guidance requiring the Military Departments to issue regulations mandating documentation of the victims’ preference.
Comments from the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs addressed the specifics of the recommendation; therefore, the recommendation is resolved but will remain open. We will close the recommendation once we review the guidance to ensure that it requires documentation of the victims’ preference and includes either specific exceptions to the consultation and documentation requirement or a statement that there are no exceptions to the consultation or documentation requirement.
This report is a result of Project No. D2018-D000RL-0185.000.