Sexual Harassment in VA Hospitals
There have been nearly 300 alleged sexual assaults at Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities from 2007 to 2010. According to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), many of these incidents (even instances of rape) were never reported.
The GAO launched an investigation into claims that sexual assaults were going unreported by VA police officers. During the investigation, the GOA reviewed the VA’s safety policies, interviewed VA security officials and visited five VA medical facilities.
It was found that although VA police received reports of sexual assaults, they did not always pass the information along to VA management and the VA inspector general- which constitutes a regulatory violation.
Factors that Led to the Underreporting
The GOA report concluded that there were several factors that led to the underreporting of sexual assaults in VA hospitals including:
- unclear guidance on what should be reported
- unclear definition of sexual assault
- oversight of alleged incidents
- poor monitoring of surveillance cameras
- alarm system malfunctions
- failure of alarms to alert both VA police and clinical staff when triggered
- VA police units were understaffed
Of the 284 alleged sexual assaults from January 2007 through July 2010:
- 67 were classified as rape
- 185 as inappropriate touching
- 8 as forceful medical examinations
- 13 as forced oral sex
- 11 as other types of sexual assaults
Of those involved in alleged sexual assaults:
- Victims were male and female
- A majority of the suspects were men and included: employees, patients, visitors, outsiders not affiliated with the VA
The GOA made several recommendations to help VA hospitals better track and report sexual assault allegations:
- establish a consistent definition of sexual assault
- clarify expectations about what information on allegations should be reported
- develop a central tracking mechanism so that staff can monitor alleged incidents
Additionally, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs requested the GOA report and has introduced legislation that would require the VA to track all sexual assaults and to monitor veterans that may pose a risk of committing sexual assault.