Pentagon to report 37 percent increase in sexual assault cases
By Jeremy Herb - 05/07/13 12:25 PM ET
The Pentagon on Tuesday will report a 37 percent increase in sexual assaults in the military, according to U.S. and congressional officials.
The number of reported sexual assaults rose to 3,374 last year, the Defense Department study will show, up from 3,192 in 2011. That’s the highest number of reported cases since the Pentagon began submitting annual reports to Congress on sexual assault in 2004.
Including unreported cases, the Pentagon estimates 26,000 sexual assaults took place across the armed forces in 2012.
The Pentagon’s estimate of 26,000 reported and unreported sexual assaults is an increase from 2010, when the department estimated 19,000 total cases. The department did not produce a total estimate of sexual assaults for 2011.
The Pentagon estimates the total number of sexual assaults based on an anonymous survey of service members. The data indicate that most victims do not report the crime to their superiors.
The 2010 survey, for instance, estimated that 86 percent of sexual assaults went unreported, which the military says is similar to the rate for civilian sexual assault crimes.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will speak about the findings on Tuesday afternoon when the Pentagon officially releases the report.
The Pentagon has come under fire for the way it handles sexual assault in the ranks.
Lawmakers say the military is not taking the issue of sexual assault seriously enough, and a number of them are seeking to overhaul how the military investigates and prosecutes the cases through legislation.
The action on Capitol Hill is being fueled by outrage over more than two-dozen basic training instructors accused of sexual misconduct at Lackland Air Base last year, we well as an Air Force sexual assault case this year where a guilty verdict was dismissed by a commander in a post-trial review.
The criticism escalated this week when it was revealed that an Air Force chief for sexual assault prevention was charged on Sunday with sexual battery.
“While under our legal system everyone is innocent until proven guilty, this arrest speaks volumes about the status and effectiveness of DOD’s efforts to address the plague of sexual assaults in the military,” Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said at an Air Force hearing on Tuesday.
Pentagon press secretary George Little said in a statement Monday that Hagel “expressed outrage and disgust over the troubling allegations and emphasized that this matter will be dealt with swiftly and decisively.”
Lawmakers said Tuesday’s report shows that the military is moving in the wrong direction when it comes to sexual assault.
“We have learned of an increase in the amount of service members experiencing unwanted sexual contact and a decrease in the rate that those incidents are reported,” Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. “[That is] the exact opposite direction of what would indicate a cultural and statistical shift on a problem that effects mission readiness and overall morale of our forces.”
Hagel has recommended that the military’s judicial code be changed to strip commanders of the ability to overturn guilty verdicts in a post-trial review.
But some lawmakers want the military to go further, removing the prosecution of sexual assault cases from the military’s chain of command, which the services have argued against.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) pressed Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh on the issue at Tuesday’s congressional hearing.
Welsh defended the way that commanders handle sexual assault cases, saying that overturned verdicts are rare.
When Welsh said that the reporting problem with sexual assault cases is similar in the civilian and military worlds, Gillibrand cut him off.
“I think it’s very different in the military,” she said. “I think you’re precisely wrong about that. Everything is about the chain of command.”