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On Demand

Policy Over Programming: Effectively Preventing & Responding to Sexual Assault in the Military

Total Credits: 1.5 including 1.5 American Psychological Association, 1.5 Association of Social Worker Boards, 1.5 National Board of Certified Counselors, 1.5 California Board of Registered Nurses, 1.5 State Bar of California

Prevention and Intervention  |  Sexual Victimization  |  Trauma among First Responders, Military Personnel, and their Families
Don Christensen, Col (USAF, Ret.), J.D.
Course Levels:
Appropriate for All Levels
1.5 Hours
Audio and Video


In 2018, the Department of Defense estimated that 20,500 members of the U.S. military were sexually assaulted. This is the highest number since 2005 and constitutes a nearly 50% increase in the number of assaults against women (DOD SAPRO, 2019). Despite the creation of the DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office in 2005, prevention efforts have failed to adequately counter the culture of misogyny and harassment in the U.S. military that contribute to the epidemic of sexual violence. Despite SAPRO’s assertion that sexual violence can be “measurably and systematically reduced” through prevention efforts, the increased prevalence of sexual assault despite robust prevention efforts calls into question the efficacy of sexual assault prevention programming within the DOD (DOD, 2019, p. 3). Policy changes enacted over the past ten years including the introduction of the Special Victims Counsel/Victims Legal Counsel program and the creation of the restricted reporting option. Though these policies have enabled victims of sexual violence to achieve greater autonomy and comprehension of the sexual assault reporting process, it has done little to deter future sexual assaults (Holland et al, 2014). Sexual violence continues to permeate the U.S. military despite prevention efforts because perpetrators continue to act with impunity. Prevention efforts alone, including trainings, workshops, and online courses, are an inadequate and ineffective method of abating sexual violence if there is no accountability. The U.S. military must deter sexual violence by adequately responding to unrestricted reports; the abysmal conviction rate and command-based referral system both make it clear to potential perpetrators that they can commit acts of violence without facing serious consequences. Major policy reforms are necessary within the military justice system to constitute an efficacious “prevention” effort by the DOD.


  • Understand the scope of sexual violence (SV) in the US military and the unique forms of retaliation that service members who experience sexual violence may face from their chain of command, unit and/or military community.
  • Analyze the claims DOD SAPRO asserts of the efficacy of its prevention programming in reducing the prevalence of SV in the U.S. military.
  • Understand the policy changes enacted since 2005 that aimed to improve the U.S. military's response to sexual assault and further policy recommendations that are necessary to ensure justice for survivors, and a safe and equitable work environment for all who serve.

Originally recorded at IVAT's 25th San Diego International Virtual Summit