The Defense Department’s school system’s policies for dealing with serious student misconduct including sexual assault and sexual harassment are under scrutiny by the DoD Inspector General, according to an announcement from the IG.

The evaluation is required in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s report that accompanies their version of the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. The committee also directed the DoD IG to examine DoD’s policies for helping child victims of misconduct and for rehabilitating child offenders, including whether the DoD took action to hold offenders accountable.

Army wife Susan Roeder, who has spent 4 ½ years fighting for more protections for child victims of sexual harassment in DoD schools, said she “was both relieved and saddened when I saw the official notification. Relieved that the DoD IG would complete a thorough and independent investigation and saddened that it took 4½ years to get to this point.

“So many officials had the opportunity and responsibility to do the right thing for our children, it should not have taken congressional action,” said Roeder, whose daughter reported being sexually harassed by another student at Vilseck High School in Germany in 2013, as detailed in Military Times in 2016.

The challenges military families face that affect their children’s DoDEA education aren’t just policy driven, they’re systemic, Roeder said.

Roeder has pursued the issue with DoDEA and DoD officials, in an effort to convince them to establish clear policies regarding sexual harassment of students in DoDEA, for the benefit of all students. To this day, the incident involving her daughter is still not classified as sexual harassment at all levels within DoDEA and DoD, she said.

The Associated Press recently published reports detailing problems with child-on-child sexual assault on military bases, including military schools, and the issues with how law enforcement officials on and off base deal with the cases. “It is disturbing to learn the DoD’s policies and procedures may prevent efforts to help child victims of misconduct, including sexual harassment and sexual assault, and to rehabilitate and hold child offenders accountable,” senators stated in their committee report, citing the AP articles.

The IG will also look at DoD’s and DoDEA’s referrals to DoD law enforcement organizations, and to military and civilian child advocacy and health services.

IG personnel will conduct site visits, interviews and will review documentation and data bases, among other things, as part of this evaluation, according to the announcement.

The Senate version of the bill also requires Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) officials to establish policies and procedures by March 31, 2019 to protect students who are victims of sexual harassment.

In 2016, Defense officials told Military Times they were investigating Roeder’s concerns. At a December 2017 Dependents Education Council meeting, officials acknowledged that before August 2017, DoDEA had handled claims of alleged discrimination from students, parents or employees informally without providing notice of their rights and how to file a formal complaint. By law, discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual harassment or sexual violence.

DoDEA has taken a number of steps, including some in the last few months, to establish policies and procedures to protect students who are victims of sexual harassment.

In February, DoDEA director Thomas Brady issued a directive stating DoDEA’s commitment to ensuring no one is subject to any form of sexual harassment in any DoDEA programs or activities, outlining procedures for handling reports of sexual harassment.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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