WASHINGTON — The number of sexual assault reports involving servicemembers remained relatively unchanged in fiscal 2011, according to an annual Department of Defense report on sexual assaults released Friday afternoon.
The 3,192 reported incidents were just 34 more than the previous year, a 1 percent increase. But so many sexual assaults go unreported that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta estimated earlier this year that the total number is closer to 19,000.
The DOD offers two reporting options for sexual assault victims: restricted and unrestricted. Restricted reports allow victims to seek medical treatment and other services but remain confidential, which means the crimes are not investigated and few details are available.
Unrestricted reports, which allow investigation and prosecution, offer more information. Thirty one percent of those unrestricted reports alleged rape, 30 percent alleged aggravated sexual assault and 25 percent alleged wrongful sexual contact. The remaining 14 percent alleged other crimes, from nonconsensual sodomy to attempts to commit offenses.
More than half of the unrestricted reports involved servicemembers being assaulted by other servicemembers.
Of all the reports, restricted and unrestricted, 261 occurred in combat areas.
Panetta has announced several new measures to combat the crimes, and the DOD report outlined policy changes intended to prevent sexual assaults, increase the percentage of victims who come forward, improve the response and improve system accountability.
“As this report makes clear, we have more work to do to confront this problem,” Panetta said in a written statement. “There are no easy answers, but that makes it all the more essential for us to devote our energy and our attention to trying to confront this challenging crime.”
One of the criticisms the DOD faces is in prosecuting sexual assaults. Because some cases are still pending, it’s difficult to break down the numbers within a year. But in fiscal 2011, 2,449 sexual assault investigations were completed, according to the report. Of those, 349 were determined to be “unfounded,” and 486 were outside the DOD’s legal authority.
Courts-martial charges were preferred in just 489 cases.
Reports in individual service branches varied. The Army saw less than a one percent increase in reports, while the Navy was down 29 reports from 2010. The Marine Corps had 36 more reports in fiscal 2011 than 2010, while the Air Force saw 44 more reports.