Department of the Air Force to launch Integrated Response Co-Location Pilot program, outlines initiatives to support sexual assault, harassment survivors

  • Published
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

The Department of the Air Force launched the Integrated Response Co-Location Pilot program at seven installations on Aug. 1 to evaluate the effectiveness of a new, more holistic approach for responding and assisting survivors of sexual assault, sexual harassment, domestic violence, stalking, and cyber harassment.

This pilot program will run for six months and centralize five key support services to simplify access and the advocacy processes for Airmen and Guardians. The five services that will physically co-locate are:

- Sexual Assault Response Coordinator
- Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Victim Advocate
- Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate
- Victim’s Counsel
- Religious Support Team

"This is about supporting victims, plain and simple,” said Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones, who directed the establishment of the co-location pilot. “Co-locating support services for victims of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and other forms of interpersonal violence is meant to help victims easily navigate available resources. We're committed to increasing awareness of response services, minimizing the number of times a victim has to tell their story, and collecting the data to improve response and prevention efforts.”

The performance of the pilot program will be measured and evaluated by comparing the seven pilot installations against seven “control bases,” which do not have the new approach. These installations were selected based on the population’s diversity, expressed interest by the major command, and ability to execute the co-location approach. Additional implementation procedures for each installation will be disseminated to the following seven participating installations:

- Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas
- Vandenberg Space Force Base, California
- Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia
- Hill Air Force Base, Utah
- Misawa Air Base, Japan
- RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom
- Offutt AFB, Nebraska

The pilot program is the latest in a series of comprehensive reforms by the Department of the Air Force to change policies and practices to better identify sexual assault, harassment, stalking, and domestic violence cases. The goal is to increase overall awareness, accessibility, and support to survivors through healing-centric services to prevent re-victimization.

“We are committed to increasing overall awareness, accessibility, and support to survivors through physical co-location of centralized support,” said Lt. Gen. Caroline Miller, deputy chief of staff for Manpower, Personnel, and Services. “Integrating these services allows us to enhance survivors’ healing and simplifies the advocacy process."

The Department of the Air Force has also taken deliberate and substantive actions to address sexual assault, sexual harassment, and interpersonal violence, which the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military, the DAF Interpersonal Violence Task Force Report, Racial Disparity Review, Disparity Review and Disparity Review Addendum identified.

Updated discharge criteria for sexual assault
The new comprehensive policy, DAF Instruction 36-3211: Military Separations, published in June 2022, explicitly states members who commit sexual assault will face mandatory initiation of discharge, and only if certain limited circumstances exist, can a member be considered for an exception to the presumption of discharge.

Exceptions to discharge are not allowed in the following circumstances:

- The sexual assault involved a child.
- The sexual assault involved a sexual act (i.e., an offense involving penetration).
- The sexual assault involved force or threat of force, the victim was incapable of consenting, or the assault involved false representation by the subject.
- The sexual assault involved an abuse of rank or authority.
- The member has a prior substantiated allegation of sexual assault or sexual harassment.
- The member’s continued presence in the DAF is inconsistent with good order and discipline and promoting a culture of safety and respect.

Additionally, the criteria that focused on how likely a member was to engage in a future act of sexual assault was removed.

Established Office of Special Trial Counsel
The Department of the Air Force established an Office of Special Trial Counsel June 15, led by an O-7 judge advocate who reports directly to the Secretary of the Air Force.

OSTC will have the exclusive authority to refer and prosecute covered offenses committed on or after Dec. 28, 2023, such as murder, sexual offenses, and other serious crimes.

The office will include litigators who completed an extensive selection process. The Judge Advocate General personally designates each Special Trial Counsel based on their experience litigating sexual assault cases, successful completion of the STC Qualification Course, a certification interview, and upon recommendation of a panel of previously certified prosecutors.

The Department of the Air Force held its first STC Qualification Course in May, and The Judge Advocate General of the Department of the Air Force personally certified the first team of STCs.

The goals of the new office are to provide expert prosecution support, strengthen communication with victims, streamline the investigation and trial process to decrease case processing time, and continue to develop expert litigators.

Implemented sexual harassment as UCMJ offense
The Department of the Air Force is utilizing the newly enumerated Article 134 offense in investigations and prosecutions of sexual harassment and educating the force on its punitive nature. Previously, the Department of the Air Force handled allegations of sexual harassment under various articles, such as Article 92, Dereliction of Duty, or Article 133, Conduct Unbecoming an Officer. Under Article 134, commanders will have a specific Uniform Code of Military Justice offense to directly address the seriousness of this misconduct.

As of April 2022, commanders must notify victims of administrative action results in alleged sex-related cases not proceeding to court-martial. The category of required victim notifications expanded from “alleged sexual assaults” to any “alleged sex-related offenses.”

No later than December 2023, commanders will be required to forward, to the extent practicable, allegations of sexual harassment to independent investigators within 72 hours.

Each of these efforts is supported by an Executive Order signed in January by President Joe Biden. The Executive Order also strengthens the military justice response in prosecuting domestic violence cases and fully implements changes to the military justice code to criminalize the wrongful broadcast or distribution of intimate visual images.