Observers praise rise in sex assault reporting, slam prosecution rate
By JENNIFER HLAD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 4, 2014
As Congress and advocacy groups keep pressure on the military to prosecute sexual assaults, military commanders say they took disciplinary action against 73 percent of cases in which there was sufficient evidence to consider doing so, leaders said Thursday.
“The bottom line: Commanders are taking allegations of sexual assault very seriously and holding offenders appropriately accountable,” said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, head of the Pentagon’s sexual assault prevention and response office.
“More and more victims are getting an opportunity to be heard in the military justice system.”
But according to the annual report released Thursday by the Department of Defense, just 484 people went to trial out of the more than 2,100 that could have been considered for action, and just 370 were convicted of any crime.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has championed legislation to overhaul the military justice system. On Thursday, she said the Pentagon’s latest numbers are “deeply troubling” and show that “our current military justice system remains broken.”
The report showed a 50 percent increase in reported sexual assaults from fiscal 2012, which leaders attribute to growing confidence in the system.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a longtime critic of the way the military handles sexual assaults and the architect of many recent reforms, said she believes the uptick in reporting shows “concrete progress.”
“We know that the majority of survivors, both military and civilian, choose not to report their assaults — but this data suggests that the number of brave men and women in uniform choosing to pursue justice is increasing,” McCaskill said.
But Gillibrand said it is impossible to draw any conclusions based on the numbers, and instead said the report “should send chills down people’s spines” and shows “a system screaming for additional reform.”
“More reporting is not the end game,” Gillibrand said. “Justice and removing recidivist predators from the military so they cannot commit more crimes to arrest the problem is the end game.
The report includes the number of reported sexual assaults by service branch. The Army had 2,149 total sexual assaults reported in fiscal 2013, a 51 percent increase from fiscal 2012. The Navy had 1,057 reports of sexual assault, a 46 percent increase from the previous year.
The Air Force received 1,052 reports, a 33 percent increase from the previous year. The Marine Corps had 808 reports, an 86 percent increase from fiscal 2012.
The Marine Corps also had the highest rate of reported sexual assaults, at 3.8 per 1,000 servicemembers, according to the report.
Marine spokesman Capt. Tyler Balzer said Marines are encouraged by the increase in reporting, which they believe means that victims have greater trust in the system. While there is still work to be done, Balzer said,“we’re taking this as an encouraging sign that we’re moving in the right direction.”
Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said that while his organization believes the Pentagon is committed to addressing sexual assault, “no one should confuse better reporting and more accurate numbers with actually solving the problem.”
The numbers show “that there is still hard work to be done to reduce sexual assault in the military,” Rieckhoff said. “This is a matter of national security. If troops aren’t safe in uniform, they can’t be safe in battle.”