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HEIDELBERG, Germany — The Defense Department agency in charge of policies to combat sexual assault dispatched an official to Europe this week, after the U.S. Army Europe headquarters said it was ending a pilot program that allowed civilians to use the same sexual assault reporting options as soldiers.

Kaye Whitley, director of the DOD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said she sent her oversight program manager to make evaluations after learning that USAREUR had ended the program, which was the first to allow civilians to make confidential, “restricted” sexual assault reports.

The suspension of the program was first reported by Stars and Stripes last week.

USAREUR has said it needed the Army’s permission to extend the program, but Whitley said the Defense Department — now working to allow more restricted reporting throughout the services — had already provided permission for the pilot program to continue.

DOD sent the letter to the Department of the Army in November 2009 authorizing the program for up to a year, but the Army decided that pilot program would last six months.

USAREUR officials said they had asked permission from the Department of the Army to extend the program, and had stopped offering the reporting option to civilians until permission was granted.

The request is still being considered at the Army level, USAREUR officials said Tuesday.

During the SAPRO program oversight manager’s visit, she will determine the status of the command’s sexual assault prevention and response efforts, with a focus on the results of the pilot program, Whitley said.

“There’ll be a protocol, and questions, and she’ll come back and write a report,” Whitley said. “Basically, we’re looking for effectiveness.”

According to USAREUR officials, some 200 sexual assault reports have been filed annually for the past several years. Most of them are “unrestricted,” which triggers a police investigation and requires commanders be notified.

In the six months of USAREUR’s pilot program, just three civilian women made restricted reports — a sign, Whitley said, that expanding the program wouldn’t expend too many resources.

But the military estimates just 20 percent of all sexual assaults are reported at all.

Sexual assault victims throughout U.S. society are loathe to report the assault, experts say, forgoing medical and psychological care to maintain their privacy and avoid being themselves blamed. Those concerns are heightened in the military by the nature of the small, closed military communities — “Everybody knows everybody,” Whitley said.

Additionally, if the report is unrestricted, numerous people are notified of the assault under the usual, long-standing policies — military police, criminal investigators, garrison and unit commanders of victims and perpetrators.

If a victim were assaulted and sought medical care in most American cities, Whitley noted, doctors and nurses wouldn’t as a rule call police.

“For sure, they wouldn’t pick up the phone and call Secretary Gates,” she said.

For years, Whitley, along with task forces and advocacy groups, said that confidential “restricted” reports — an option for troops since 2005 — should also be afforded to military civilians and servicemembers’ dependents.

The hope is that more of them would seek help.

“Everybody knows that early intervention can help a victim heal and sometimes prevent PTSD,” Whitley said.

New policies are being formulated to allow spouses and dependents aged 18 and over at military bases worldwide to make confidential reports, as well as civilian employees overseas. Those policies could be in effect as early as next spring.

Expanding services, Whitley said, means hiring more people and providing training to ensure that restricted reports remain confidential. The military isn’t known for quick changes, though, and in changing civilian policies, other agencies such as the Labor Department also have to agree.

“You have to eat the elephant one bite at a time,” Whitley said.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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