32 sexual assaults reported at Wright-Patt AFB in 4-year period
By BARRIE BARBER | Dayton Daily News, Ohio | Published: February 12, 2014
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base reported 32 alleged sexual assaults involving adult victims from 2010 to 2013, according to the 88th Air Base Wing Office of Staff Judge Advocate.
The base’s sex assault statistics were released to the Dayton Daily News amid demands in Congress for more transparency in the way the military handles such crimes.
The Wright-Patt figures showed nine reported assaults last year, 11 in 2012, and six each in 2011 and 2010.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to release information about sexual assaults at the largest bases in each military branch, including Wright-Patterson, the Army’s Fort Hood in Texas, Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia and the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton in California.
The sweeping request for the past five years includes “all reports and allegations of rape, forcible sodomy, sexual assault, sex in the barracks, adultery and attempts, conspiracies or solicitations to commit these crimes,” Gillibrand wrote in her Feb. 10 letter to Hagel.
Alcohol a common factor
Seven of the alleged Wright-Patterson assaults occurred in dormitories, five in military housing and 20 occurred off-base, according to Office of Judge Advocate data. The reported offenders were 26 active-duty airmen and six reservists, statistics showed.
Fourteen of the reported victims requested prosecution of the alleged perpetrators, 11 victims did not. Three who reported assaults recanted the allegations, and the status of five others was not known, according to figures.
Among the reported victims, 15 were active-duty service members, three were reservists, four were military dependents and 10 were “non-base connected civilians,” Wright-Patterson reported.
Eight of the victims were between 18 and 20 years old, 16 were between the ages of 21 and 24 and eight were 24 or older or the age was unknown.
Twenty-six of the reported incidents involved alcohol, five did not and it was unknown if alcohol was involved in one incident, authorities reported.
Nine airmen faced court-martial charges for sexual assaults. Four were convicted, two were administratively discharged, two were acquitted and one case is pending in an Article 32 hearing, according to base figures. Eight other airmen were punished through non-judicial punishment for “less serious sexual contact offenses,” a statement said. A lack of evidence scuttled three other cases. In seven cases, civilian authorities withheld jurisdiction, or the Air Force did not have jurisdiction. Five cases remain under investigation, Wright-Patterson reported.
The Wright-Patterson Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, meanwhile, reported different assault numbers — 25 alleged incidents in 2013, 17 of which the victims sought prosecution. Base spokesman Daryl Mayer said the SARC numbers differ from the judge advocate reports because the response coordinator records incidents that may have occurred at other bases but were reported at Wright-Patterson.
“The Air Force and Wright-Patterson AFB are absolutely committed to preventing, deterring, and prosecuting sexual assault in its ranks,” 88th Air Base Wing commander Col. Cassie B. Barlow said in a release. “We stand ready to support any directive from higher headquarters that will advance us to our common goal of combating sexual assault.”
Gillibrand has introduced the Military Justice Improvement Act, which has companion legislation in the House. It would in part strip military commanders of the authority to decide to prosecute some crimes, such as sexual assault, with a penalty of more than a year in confinement and give that legal determination to prosecutors.
Congress has intensely debated the topic, with some members contending unit commanders should retain the authority and others saying it deters victims from reporting crimes because of a lack of confidence in the military justice system.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said bipartisan and bicameral legislation he introduced and sponsored in Congress that significantly reformed how the military justice system dealt with sexual assault was chosen over Gillibrand’s last year.
The legislation pushed oversight of prosecutions higher up the chain of command, increased prosecution of perpetrators and increased protections of victims, he said. The reforms eliminated a convening authority’s power to dismiss or modify a court-martial conviction for offenses such as rape or sexual assault, among other changes.
“Those provisions were chosen over Sen. Gillibrand’s bill because they have a greater opportunity to reform the system without gutting it and starting over, and provides greater protection” for service members, said Turner, co-chairman of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus.
He described Gillibrand’s bill as “risky and could significantly result in weakening the system for the protection of victims of sexual assault.”
Glen Caplin, a Gillibrand spokesman, said the senator backed many of the reforms, which were “a good step in the right direction, but they don’t go far enough to solve the problem.”
Survivors of sexual assault deserve an independent military justice system, he added in an email.
“Supported by a growing chorus of retired generals and former commanders, plus veterans organizations, they advocate this is a vote for our troops and to strengthen our military. Nowhere in America would we allow a boss to decide if an employee was sexually assaulted — except the United States Military. We owe them better.”
Gillibrand’s bill has tallied 54 supporters in the Senate, a spokesman said, including Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, but needs 60 to avoid a filibuster. A vote could happen within weeks.
“While the military has taken some important steps to address sexual assault, far too many American service members have faced unwanted sexual contact and assaults,” Brown said in an email. “And far too few feel they can report an assault without adverse consequences to their careers. We should do everything we can to root out this problem in all our institutions, civilian and military.”
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has not signed on as a supporter of the Gillibrand legislation. But he has sponsored measures such as the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act, the basis for reforms in the last defense bill, spokeswoman Caitlin Dunn said in an email.