Department of Defense — Airmen who commit sexual assaults will be discharged, and senior commanders must review actions taken on sexual assault cases under new Air Force initiatives that took effect recently.
Air Force Capt. Allison DeVito, chief of victim issues and policy branch for the Air Force judge advocate general, said both recent changes are part of the Air Force's initiative to combat sexual assault and to foster mutual respect and dignity among airmen.
When combined with existing programs, the Air Force's efforts to end sexual assault and support those who report it have been increasing significantly throughout the past year, DeVito said. At the same time, she added, the Air Force is experiencing a surge in its prosecution rates for sexual assault, reflecting results similar to those in the other services.
As of July 2, commanders must initiate administrative discharge processing for any airman -- officer or enlisted -- found to have committed a sexual assault offense after completing any disciplinary action.
This new requirement, which covers a wide range of sex offenses, is triggered by a finding that the airman committed the offense, DeVito said.
Once a commander has information alleging that an airman has committed a sexual assault offense, the commander must promptly refer the case to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. If the commander believes that the evidence uncovered in the investigation substantiates the allegation, then the commander will take appropriate criminal or administrative action, and following that, must process the offender for administrative discharge, she explained.
In addition to the recent policy change, DeVito said, a new provision explicitly states that an airman who engaged in an unprofessional relationship while serving in a special position of trust -- such as a recruiter or military training instructor -- also is subject to administrative discharge. Airmen who are involuntarily separated from the Air Force under these provisions may receive a discharge under "other than honorable" conditions, DeVito said.
Another change to the discharge process requires that airmen be advised of their right to request review by a general officer. The case can be reviewed if an airman believes the commander's recommendation for involuntary separation was initiated in retaliation for having made an unrestricted report of a sexual assault within the previous 12 months.
This change eliminates the perception that an airman who reports a sexual assault may be subject to discharge simply for reporting, DeVito said.
In addition, a June 27 directive issued by the undersecretary of the Air Force directed that any commander who makes a disciplinary decision regarding an airman who commits a sexual assault must report that decision to the servicing general court-martial convening authority, a general officer, who then will review the intended disposition and take any further action deemed appropriate.
This change also requires that the general court-martial convening authority must review the case and its disposition after all disciplinary and administrative action is completed and must report the actions taken in the case to AFOSI in writing. Upon receipt of this report of command action, AFOSI will close out the investigative file by attaching a copy of the report of command action to the case file.
DeVito said that, to date, 369 service members, of which are mostly airmen, have received legal services from an Air Force special victims counsel. The SVCs attend interviews by AFOSI, the prosecution and defense counsel. They also attend trials with the victim-client, assisting victims in obtaining expedited transfers, and helping victims receive military protective orders to ensure the assailant does not contact the victim except as needed to prepare for trial. The Air Force is the only service providing SVCs to service members, DeVito said.
"Sexual assault has no place in our Air Force," said Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, Air Force chief of staff. "We live in a culture of respect. We cherish our core values of integrity, service, and excellence. But in order to ensure all airmen experience and benefit from those values, we must eliminate sexual assault in our ranks."