Posted May 01, 2014 08:53 pm CDT
Reports of sexual assaults in the military rose 50 percent last year, according to a Department of Defense study released Thursday, reports the Washington Post. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said during a press conference that sexual assaults are a threat to both women and men in uniform, and promised that the Pentagon would do more to ensure that victims come forward and report assaults.
“We have to fight the cultural stigmas that discourage reporting and be clear that sexual assault does not occur because a victim is weak, but rather because an offender disregards our values and the law,” Hagel said in a statement.
It was not clear whether the increase in reports was due to a spike in sexual assaults or because more victims had decided to come forward. The Post reports that the Pentagon received 5,061 reports of sexual assault in 2013, up from 3,374 during the previous year.
The biggest increase by percentage came in the Marine Corps, which saw an 86 percent increase in sexual assault reports during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2013. The Army reported a 51 percent jump during the same period, with the Navy and Air Force recording increases of 46 percent and 42 percent, respectively.
The report also found that nearly 2 percent of all female service members in all four branches of the armed services reported sexual assaults last year; 0.07 percent of male service members were reported as victims, a rate 27 times lower. Meanwhile, women make up 15 percent of the 1.4 million troops on active duty. Fifty-four percent of the assaults were of one service member on another; the rest of the assaults involved civilians.
Reuters points out sexual assault in the military has traditionally been extremely underreported, and that a separate military survey concluded that 26,000 sex crimes had occurred in 2012, when 3,374 reports were filed. That survey is only conducted every two years, so there is no similar data yet to be compared for 2013.
Advocacy groups applauded the Pentagon’s commitment to support sex assault victims, but expressed concern over whether the military is properly investigating and prosecuting sex assault cases. During the same time period that the 5,061 reports were made, only 484 cases went to trial, and 370 people were convicted, says Reuters.
“There is definitely a seriousness about it,” Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, to the Post. “I’m still quite concerned about the whole justice system. There are still lots of problems with how the cases are handled.”
Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, however, was disappointed with the Pentagon’s report. “The DoD has released no evidence to prove its claim that victims have more trust in the existing military justice system or the treatment they have received,” Parrish said in a statement. “Through our Pro Bono Network, we continue to hear daily from victims who are facing retaliation for coming forward, who are having their confidential records handed over to their rapists in court, and who are watching their perpetrators receive a slap on the wrist while they struggle to recover and maintain their careers under an unsupportive command. These victims often tell us they feel betrayed, and wish they had never reported at all.”
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