U.S. SENATE – This week, U.S. Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) requested the immediate formation of a Department of Defense task force to combat sexual assault.

In a letter to Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, McSally asked for the Acting Secretary’s attention as a follow-up from his commitment in last week’s hearing. 

“Thank you for your commitment at last week’s Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing to partner with me to tackle sexual assault in the military through a focused effort of experts and military leaders,” Senator McSally wrote. “SASC will be marking up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in the coming weeks, and we need to explore new initiatives and changes that will make a difference immediately and permanently. To that end, I request an opportunity to speak with you right away to discuss this matter further. I also request you form a Task Force comprised of myself, representative experts from all military services, and specialized civilian experts, to take a deep dive into this issue. I ask that this Task Force begin meeting immediately with a goal of having recommendations ready for SASC NDAA committee markup.”

Within hours of sending the letter, the Acting Secretary responded via phone to McSally’s letter and agreed to take steps to form the task force.

In the short-term, the focus will be on improving sexual assault response including investigation and prosecutions. McSally has been engaged with Air Force leaders on ways to improve sexual assault response. McSally and Shanahan agreed on the need to broaden efforts to all military services with focus and urgency.

“My goal, and the goal of the Department of Defense, is to eliminate sexual assault and sexual harassment in the United States military,” said Acting Secretary of Defense Shanahan. “DoD leadership is committed to fixing this and I look forward to working with Senator McSally and our taskforce to find solutions that will eliminate this issue from our ranks.”

Tomorrow, McSally will host a townhall with commanders and a meet and greet with junior Airmen at Luke Air Force Base.

The letter is available to download HERE and below:

Dear Acting Secretary Shanahan,

Thank you for your commitment at last week’s Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing to partner with me to tackle sexual assault in the military through a focused effort of experts and military leaders. Thousands of sexual assaults continue to be reported each year, yet very few are held accountable at trial. Although much effort has been put towards prevention and response to military sexual assault, these numbers are just intolerable.  

As an Air Force Academy graduate; 26-year military veteran; former squadron commander; and military sexual assault survivor myself, I have a unique perspective on this issue. I strongly believe we cannot take responsibility away from commanders due to the unique role commanders play in culture, readiness, good order and discipline, and mission. However, we cannot accept the status quo. SASC will be marking up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in the coming weeks, and we need to explore new initiatives and changes that will make a difference immediately and permanently.

Sexual assault is a crime that is often difficult to prove in civilian and military courts even if reported right away. However, based on my own experiences in the military and on testimony from others, I believe we need to take a fresh look at how these crimes are investigated and prosecuted in the military to ensure the highest chance of success while preserving due process for both the victim and the accused. I have already been engaging with the Air Force Secretary, Chief of Staff, TJAG, and IG on this topic, but we shouldn’t limit solutions and ideas to just one military service.

To that end, I request an opportunity to speak with you right away to discuss this matter further. I also request you form a Task Force comprised of myself, representative experts from all military services, and specialized civilian experts, to take a deep dive into this issue. I ask that this Task Force begin meeting immediately with a goal of having recommendations ready for SASC NDAA committee markup. I also request that the Task Force meet the week of March 25 with me personally in order to gauge progress on ideas and reviews.

Thank you for your commitment to combat sexual assault in the military. There are many other aspects in prevention, education, and development of commanders, culture, retaliation, and other topics we must explore as well—but let’s start by taking a fresh look at how these crimes are investigated and prosecuted, and by whom, to increase the chances that justice may be served.

I look forward to hearing back from you immediately due to the urgency of this matter.

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