Sexual assault reports, and prosecutions, rise at Fort Hood
The Austin (Texas) American-Statesman
Reports of sexual assault at Fort Hood, the nation’s busiest wartime deployment hub, have nearly doubled in recent months, with more than 200 such reports filed since October 2011, according to officials at the post.
Fort Hood soldiers made 100 reports from October 2011 to September 2012; they made just as many — 101 — in the following seven months, according to information from Fort Hood’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program. Most of the assaults — 58 percent — occurred at other locations, but were reported at Fort Hood.
Even as reports of sexual assault at Fort Hood increase, officials say prosecutions of perpetrators there far outpace the military average. About 1 in 4 Fort Hood sexual assault reports have resulted in a court-martial since October 2011, according to Fort Hood’s Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, which has two special prosecutors trained in sexual assault cases. A recent Pentagon report showed that throughout the military about 1 in 10 reports ended in a court-martial.
Fort Hood came under congressional scrutiny after Army officials announced last week that a Fort Hood soldier serving as his battalion’s sexual assault prevention officer is himself under investigation for allegedly running a small prostitution ring and assaulting another soldier. He has been suspended, but he hasn’t been charged with any crimes.
That incident made Fort Hood the latest flash point in a growing military sexual assault scandal that has touched every service branch. A week earlier, Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, who ran the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, was arrested and charged with sexual battery in a Washington, D.C., suburb. According to a police report, Krusinski “approached a female victim in a parking lot and grabbed her breasts and buttocks.”
According to a recent Pentagon report, reports of sexual assault increased 6 percent in 2012, with 3,374 reports and nearly 3,000 military victims, both women and men. That represents a 131 percent increase in reported victims since 2004.
Fort Hood’s sexual assault numbers — in 2012, roughly 1 of every 34 reports militarywide was at Fort Hood — roughly correspond to the post’s percentage of the military’s population.
Fort Hood officials attributed the increase in the rate of reports to greater awareness among soldiers of the post’s sexual assault response office, which they say has increased its outreach efforts, placed soldier representatives inside units and set up a 24-hour hotline.
“All of these factors, including an aggressive prosecution focus on holding the offenders accountable, have led to this increase in reporting,” said Lt. Col. Jacqueline Davis, director of the sexual assault prevention program.
But military officials believe that sexual assault — which under the Defense Department’s definition includes rape, unwanted sexual contact and forcible sodomy (but not harassment) — remains vastly underreported. Based on the results of a military survey, about 26,000 service members experienced “unwanted sexual contact” in 2012, which would put reporting levels at about 11 percent. The survey numbers represented a 37 percent increase from 19,000 in 2010.
Just a small number of the 3,374 sexual assaults reported in 2012 resulted in courts-martial or jail time for perpetrators. Of the 302 defendants who went to trial in 2012, 238 were convicted and about 176 were sentenced to confinement. Other punishments included reduction in rank, discharge and extra duty.
At Fort Hood, since October 2011 just over 200 reports have resulted in 49 courts-martial; in an additional 22 cases, charges have been filed, but not reached trial, officials said. They didn’t provide the outcome of the 49 trials.
Legal officials at Fort Hood attributed the difference in prosecution rates to the presence of two prosecutors who are specially trained in sexual assault cases. Fort Hood is the only Army installation with more than one such prosecutor.
Despite their expertise, the prosecutors can only advise commanders, who under military law make the final decision on whether to pursue court-martial charges. Commanders can even overturn sentences won in courts-martial without any legal grounds. An Air Force commander, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, overturned an officer’s sexual assault conviction and jail sentence in November, sparking widespread outcry for change in the military system.
Lawmakers have filed bills in both the U.S. House and Senate that would take prosecution of sexual assault out of the chain of command and into the hands of a trained prosecutor.
“This is the only way we can provide the unbiased justice that our victims need,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., in announcing the legislation last week. “When we take these cases outside the chain of command, we give the victims the basic confidence to know that justice will be had and there will be accountability and transparency in their cases.”
And in the aftermath of the Fort Hood prostitution allegation and other incidents, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the military to review the credentials for each of the 25,000 service members serving as sexual assault program coordinators and victim advocates.