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DOD: Reporting of military sexual assault rises as estimate of total incidents declines

JESSE LOPEZ/U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO

By TARA COPP | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 1, 2017

WASHINGTON — Military members were more willing to report sexual assault in 2016 compared to the year before, even as fear of retaliation continued to weigh on victims, the Pentagon said in a report released Monday.

Servicemembers reported 6,172 cases of sexual assault in 2016, compared to 6,083 the year before, according to data collected by the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.

“Over half of servicemembers reporting a sexual assault perceived some sort of negative reaction from other servicemembers after making a report,” said Navy Rear Adm. Ann Burkhardt, director of the Pentagon's sexual assault prevention office.

“This is a critical focus area for the department,” Burkhardt said, adding that the Pentagon has established guidelines to further protect servicemembers who report.

However, reported cases in 2016 were less than half of the DOD-estimated 14,900 incidents among military members last year.

LINK | A comprehensive list of the FY2016 findings

DOD estimates 20,400 servicemembers experienced some type of sexual assault in 2014. A separate entity, the Defense Manpower Data Center, independently surveys the military to calculate how many actual incidents are taking place, to compare that to how many are being reported.

Burkhardt said she was encouraged to see an increase in cases reported as the total number of estimated sexual assaults in the military dropped. She said that DOD’s increased attention to prosecuting cases encourages more victims to report.

“We want to connect our actions to the reduction of crime and an increase in reporting,” Burkhardt said. “The data we are reporting suggests we are moving closer to those goals.”

Of the 6,172 cases reported in 2016, there were 791 cases that resulted in court-martial charges, 272 that resulted in non-judicial punishments and 268 that resulted in administrative actions.

There were also cases in 2016 that did not result in military punishment — 785 cases involved a civilian or foreign national, whose cases could not be resolved by the military justice system. Victims in 252 of the total cases declined to participate in the case and in 670 cases, it was determined that there was not enough evidence to investigate.

In 2015, for comparison, of the 6,083 cases reported, 926 resulted in court-martial charges; 303 resulted in non-judicial punishment; and 95 resulted in administrative actions. In 257 cases the victim declined to participate and in 420 cases, DOD found insufficient evidence.

Another defense official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity before the report’s release said prosecutions are encouraging more victims to report.

“When we started this out, most sexual assault cases weren’t going to court-martial. Most sexual assaults in 2007 when we started this out, were being dealt with administrative actions and discharges,” the official said. “That was unconscionable. We changed the system, to give victims their day in court.”

copp.tara@stripes.com
Twitter:@TaraCopp

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