Reported sexual assault in the military jumps as lawmakers call for more accountability
The number of sexual assault incidents reported in the military skyrocketed over the last fiscal year, jumping by 46 percent in the months between October 2012 and June, according to newly released Pentagon figures.
Whether assaults are taking place more often, victims are reporting them more often, or both, is unclear. Yet, on the heels of a scandal that revealed unreported sexual assault is rampant throughout the military, US Department of Defense officials have claimed that a new culture in the armed force lets people feel more comfortable when reporting such abuse.
The Defense Department received 3,553 complaints of sexual by civilians on service members and by service members on civilians.
Assaults by members of the military on other members of the military were not included and, according to the New York Times, Thursday’s report tally is far below a recent biannual survey of 1.4 million service men and women which found that “about 26,000 men and women in the military were sexually assaulted in 2011, up from 19,000 in 2010.”
“More reports mean more victims are getting the necessary health care,” said Major General Gary S. Patton, director of the Department of defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. “More reports means a bridge to more cases being investigated by law enforcement and more offenders being held accountable.”
The report defined sexual assault as rape, sodomy, non-consensual touching of body parts, and any other unwanted sexual contact. It is addressed to the so-called Response Systems Panel and noted that more complaints came from each the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Another stipulation indicated there have been more reports of sexual assault in the first three quarters of 2013 than in all of the 2012 budget year.
“A change in reports of sexual assault may reflect a change in victim confidence in the Department of Defense response systems,” said a slide presentation to the panel, as quoted by the Associated Press.
The data’s publication coincides with a congressional hearing scheduled for Thursday and Friday to examine how effective the military has been in reducing sexual assault. Pentagon brass maintains that officers are given more education on sexual assault prevention and that there is an increased accountability for decision-makers throughout the armed services.
“Folks have heard about the services and programs that we have for victims, and they are walking in the door to get those services,” General Patton told the Times. “There is a strong indicator that people have heard our message and believe we are going to take care of them.”
Proposed legislation lead by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand would strip commanders of the power to decide which serious crimes, sexual assault among them, go to criminal trial and which are prosecuted within the military. The Senate is expected to consider the measure, which military leaders have condemned for months, on November 18.
The ongoing questions around the military’s handling of sexual assault has yet to hamper women from enlisting. And while it is not yet know whether Gillibrand will be able to sway enough Senators to vote for the bill, she told reporters Wednesday the problem is not going away on its own.
“There is no accountability,” she said. “Because the trust that any justice will be served has been irreparably broken under the current system, where commanders hold all the cards over whether a case moves forward for prosecution.”