ARLINGTON, Va. — A team of Army trainers is preparing for a trip to Iraq later this month to help launch the Defense Department’s new sexual assault reporting policy, according to the top uniformed officer involved in the effort.

The team’s job is to bring the new policy, signed March 16 by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, to deployed troops and their leaders, according to Air Force Brig. Gen. K.C. McClain, commander of the Joint Task Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response.

The Army’s Mobile Training Team will visit Afghanistan, Qatar, Kuwait and Iraq from May 22 to June 13, according to McClain.

The policy represents “a culture change,” McClain said, because it allows uniformed victims to notify authorities of sexual attacks and receive medical treatment without automatically triggering an official military investigation.

But the “keystone” of the new sexual assault prevention policy, McClain said, is to teach all levels of the U.S. military, from commanders to recruits, what exactly constitutes assault.

“It seems like a no-brainer,” McClain told Stripes in a Tuesday interview at her office in Rosslyn, Va. “We all know sexual assault is wrong.”

Unfortunately, after spending almost a year studying surveys both military and civilian populations, members of McClain’s task force “began to realize that [young Americans] didn’t understand what [defines] ‘assault,’” she said.

For example, one study by researchers in Wisconsin, which polled 18- to 24-year-olds, found that 48 percent of respondents of both sexes said that if a woman consents to sex, then changes her mind but is forced by her partner to perform the act, “it’s not assault,” McClain said.

“This [example] is our recruiting pool,” she noted.

“We realized we needed to do a better job in saying, ‘Here are the standards,’” she said. “So we tried to craft a plain-English definition that people can understand” to substitute for the long-standing, jargon-filled Uniformed Code of Military Justice definition.

The four-paragraph sexual assault definition that resulted, which is now the Defense Department’s official standard, begins by calling sexual assault “intentional sexual contact, characterized by the use of force, physical threat or abuse of authority or when the victim does not or cannot consent.”

Yet while the definition is supposed “to be the foundation of every service’s training program,” McClain said, it does not list every single example of what constitutes an assault.

Instead, the definition “is really designed to start conversations, start the education process [and] make people sit back and think about it.”

The new definition of sexual assault

Assault is a crime. It is defined as intentional sexual contact, characterized by the use of force, physical threat or abuse of authority or when the victim does not or cannot consent.Sexual assault includes rape, nonconsensual sodomy (oral or anal sex), indecent assault (unwanted, inappropriate sexual contact or fondling) or attempts to commit these acts.Sexual assault can occur without regard to gender or spousal relationship or age of the victim.“Consent” shall not be deemed or construed to mean the failure of the victim to offer physical resistance. Consent is not given when a person uses force, threat of force, coercion, or when the victim is asleep, incapacitated, or unconscious.Source: Department of Defense

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