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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Defense Department has commissioned a 10-member task force to review its policy on sexual assault, particularly in a combat theater, and the subsequent care for victims.

Ellen Embrey, deputy assistant secretary of defense for force health protection and readiness, will head the team, represented by members of each service and the Joint Staff, in areas of medical, personnel, social services, legal and criminal investigation.

Team members are not being identified publicly so that they can focus on their short-term task, instead of having to handle media inquiries, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell said Tuesday.

The task force, named “Care for Victims of Sexual Assaults,” was created in the wake of recent reports of troops, mostly women, filing reports of sexual assaults by other U.S. troops in Iraq and Kuwait. The group is required to report its findings and any recommendations for change to David Chu, the undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness.

The Miles Foundation, a victim-advocacy organization based in Newtown, Conn., that provides services to victims of violence associated with the military, has received roughly 50 sexual assault complaints from servicewomen returning from Iraq and Kuwait, spokeswoman Anita Sanchez said last week.

On Feb. 5, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld charged Chu to begin a review of the department’s policies surrounding sexual assault.

“I am concerned about recent reports regarding allegations of sexual assaults on servicemembers deployed to Iraq and Kuwait,” Rumsfeld wrote. “Sexual assault will not be tolerated in the Department of Defense.”

The task force will not investigate specific cases of sexual assault, but instead will focus on policies, procedures and whether adequate health and legal care is provided to victims, Pentagon officials have said.

The U.S. Central Command has reported this year 88 servicemember-on-servicemember incidents; of which 80 are allegations from soldiers, mostly female.

“This is an extremely important endeavor,” Embrey said in a statement. “In the next few weeks, we will conduct a detailed review of DOD-wide policy, programs and their effectiveness to provide the best possible care to victims of sexual assault.

“In order to do that, we will have to examine — from a command and institutional perspective — the full spectrum of medical, psychological, other social support services available to a victim, in or out of theater and including ‘outside’ resources.”


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