A 50-percent increase in sexual assaults in the armed forces reflected in the Defense Department’s latest annual report indicates growing willingness among victims to report the crime and increasing confidence the military is providing them with support and taking action against perpetrators, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said May 1.
The latest report -- which covers the period from Oct. 1, 2012, through Sept. 30, 2013 -- says there were 5,061 reports of sexual assault in the Defense Department, a 50-percent jump from the previous year. More than 70 percent of all cases in which the military had jurisdiction resulted in criminal charges, officials said.
“We have a long way to go before we get close to solving this problem,” Hagel said at a Pentagon news conference where the report’s findings were announced, linking the sharp increase in reports of the crime to steps the military has taken to encourage reporting by victims and prosecution of offenders.
“We believe victims are growing more confident in our system,” the secretary said. “Because these crimes are underreported, we took steps to increase reporting, and that’s what we’re seeing.”
Hagel said the nearly two dozen directives he has issued over the past year intended to reduce sexual assaults within the military -- including ensuring an appropriate command climate and improving victim support -- have not been enough. “We must do more,” he said, and he announced six additional directives.
“They include a departmentwide review of institutional alcohol policies, which will be revised where necessary to address risks that alcohol poses to others. … They also require new methods to better encourage male victims to report assaults and seek assistance,” he said, noting that DOD officials believe sexual assaults against men constitute half of all cases.
Of the assaults included in the report released today, just under 1,300 cases were not investigated for various reasons, including at the victim’s request or because the cases lacked sufficient evidence to support a charge or occurred outside the military’s jurisdiction.
“When commanders took disciplinary action on sexual assault offenses, they moved to court-martial a record 71 percent of alleged perpetrators,” Hagel said. “These results indicated that our investments in training investigators and attorneys are continuing to make a difference in holding offenders accountable.”
Noting that sexual assaults often are underreported, DOD officials stressed that the findings of this 10th annual congressionally mandated report are evidence not of an increase in actual crimes, but rather of a growing level of confidence among service members to come forward. The military estimated in 2006 that only 7 percent of those who experienced sexual assault reported it, while more recent reports have put that figure as high as 14 percent.
Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Snow, director of the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, described the 50-percent increase in reporting as representing “a courageous choice” by victims to come forward.
“They’re doing so in unprecedented numbers,” he told reporters at the same news conference. “It does not mean we’re satisfied,” he added, but he pointed to progress in adjudicating such cases.
“The system of military justice that we have in place today is significantly different from the one that existed as recently as two years ago,” the general continued. “Commanders are taking allegations of sexual assault very seriously and holding offenders appropriately accountable.”
Ultimately, military officials want to make the Defense Department “the last place a military offender wants to be,” Snow emphasized, adding that victims should know the department is doing everything it can to provide support and eliminate the threat.
“To the offenders: We don’t care who you are or what rank you hold. If you don’t understand our core values and are not prepared to live by and enforce those values every day, then we don’t want you in our military,” Snow said.