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YEAR IN REVIEW 2014

Sex assault in the military: debated statistics, scandal and a failed bill

Brig Gen. Jeff Sinclair arrives to the Fort Bragg courthouse, for his sentencing hearing, Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in Fort Bragg, N.C. Sinclair, who was accused of sexually assaulting a subordinate, plead guilty to lesser charges in a plea deal reached with government prosecutors.<br>Andrew Craft, The Fayetteville Observer/AP
Brig Gen. Jeff Sinclair arrives to the Fort Bragg courthouse, for his sentencing hearing, Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in Fort Bragg, N.C. Sinclair, who was accused of sexually assaulting a subordinate, plead guilty to lesser charges in a plea deal reached with government prosecutors.

Hardly a week went by in 2014 when sexual assault in the military didn’t make the news.

The year was bracketed by Congressional efforts to take prosecutorial authority in such cases from commanders and give it to trained, independent prosecutors.

In December, the Pentagon provided a progress report on sexual assault prevention President Barack Obama had ordered last year, which concluded there had been significant progress toward dealing with sexual assault in the ranks. 

Here’s a recap of key developments:

In February, the Army announced it had removed nearly 600 soldiers serving as sexual-assault-response coordinators, recruiters and drill instructors for infractions in their records ranging from sexual assault to incidents of drunken driving.

In March, a bill introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to strip commanders of disposition authority in sexual assault cases — something military officials oppose — failed by five votes to break a filibuster led by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. In December, Gillibrand and supporters, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., were trying again to pass the measure.

They cited the Pentagon’s December progress report showing that nearly two-thirds of those who reported a sexual assault said they faced retaliation, adverse career actions and punishment, despite retaliation being criminalized.

Defense Department officials focused on a different set of statistics in the report. Even as the total number of sexual assaults incidents, from abusive contact to rape, had declined — to 19,000 from an estimated 26,000 in a 2012 anonymous survey — more people were reporting their assaults to authorities, with nearly 6,000 reports in the past year.

Critics pointed out that incident rates, though lower than in 2012, were the same as in 2010, before many reforms. They noted that more people were filing confidential reports, under which alleged perpetrators couldn’t be prosecuted, and that this showed a lack of confidence in the system.

Several high-ranking officers retired last year in the wake of sexual misconduct cases:

  • In January, Third Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin announced his retirement after questions about his handling of a rape case against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Franklin, who in 2013 dismissed the fighter pilot’s sexual assault conviction -- hastening changes to the military justice system -- said he was retiring “for the good of this command and the Air Force.”
  • In June, the Army announced that  disgraced Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, who had gone to trial on sodomy charges, would retire as a lieutenant colonel, three months after he pleaded guilty to an affair with a subordinate officer and maltreatment of the woman.
  • On the day that Sinclair was sentenced, a military judge acquitted a former Navy Academy football player of sexually assaulting a classmate. Lt. Col. Jay Morse, who’d been the Army’s top special victims prosecutor, was reprimanded in June after an investigation into an allegation that he’d groped a captain at a 2011 conference on sex crimes.
  • The Air Force’s chief prosecutor,  who won the conviction against Wilkerson, also retired. Col. Don Christensen, considered the service’s best litigator, said Air Force officials had retaliated against him for failing to back Franklin’s decision, just as he said he’d seen commanders retaliate against victims for reporting their assaults. Christensen joined the victim-advocacy group Protect Our Defenders as president.

montgomery.nancy@stripes.com
 

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