Lynn Rosenthal, a noted gender violence expert, has been tapped to head up a group of current and former military leaders, as well as outside experts, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby announced.
“This effort, this commission, is dedicated to those service members who have suffered with sexual assault,” Rosenthal said. “Both those who have come forward and shared their stories at great personal cost, and those who’ve suffered in silence and continue to suffer in silence alone, and also at great cost.”
Details about who else will sit on the committee and how they will conduct their work were not available, but Rosenthal said that travel to installations will likely be part of the plan, as well as an online resource where service members can share their stories and insights.
“This commission says to that service member, you do belong in this military...and it’s our job to make this climate safe for you to be here,” she said.
The committee’s top priority is accountability for sexual assault, she said, but the team will also be looking at climate, culture and prevention.
“One of the hardest things to hear when you listen to survivors talk is how hostility was conveyed by their attacks, this hostility to them as part of the sexual assault,” Rosenthal said. “And that approach was to the victim, ‘You don’t belong here, you don’t belong in this military. No one will believe you if you talk about what happened, and you will be blamed.’ "
Pentagon officials have objected to the idea for years, but the new Senate Armed Services Committee chairman says the proposal is back on the table.
Rosenthal acknowledged past suggestions for responding to sexual assaults, including ideas that would take the responsibility out of the chain-of-command, including an independent civilian office for reporting and removal of commanders from the decision to investigate and prosecute a report.
She would not say whether she personally supported those ideas, but acknowledged past pushes by lawmakers to require, for example, that professional sexual assault prosecutors decide whether to charge a suspect.
“The president and the secretary have said that all options should be on the table,” she said.