May 8, 2013 — A new report showing that reported sexual assaults in the military increased by about 35% over the last two years led the Pentagon on Tuesday to outline a series of initiatives designed to address the problem, USA Today reports (Zoroya/Brook, USA Today, 5/7).
The Pentagon report found that 3,374 sexual assaults were reported last year, up from 3,192 in 2011. The report noted that about 6% of servicewomen and 1% of servicemen in the survey who said they were sexually assaulted did not report the incidents to supervisors. Based on these figures, the report placed the real number of sexual assaults at an estimated 26,000, up from 19,300 in 2010. Additionally, the report noted that one in four service members who were sexually assaulted and received medical care declined to press charges, which likely reflected the victims' fear of retribution (Cloud, Los Angeles Times, 5/7).
At a news conference, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said the military "may be nearing a stage where the frequency of this crime and the perception that there is still tolerance of it could very well undermine our ability to effectively carry out the mission and to recruit and retain the good people we need."
Hagel outlined a series of steps intended to make commanders accountable for fostering a climate in their ranks that deters sexual assault and properly cares for victims. He also called for initiatives to reduce stigma for reporting sexual assaults, as well as enhanced prevention training and education programs for officers and new soldiers (USA Today, 5/7).
However, Hagel stopped short of endorsing a proposal that would remove authority in sexual assault cases from commanders. He said that such a move would "weaken the system."
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) at a Senate hearing on Tuesday said that more military sexual assault survivors would come forward only when prosecution decisions are removed from commanders and given to unbiased attorneys. Victims are "afraid of retaliation" from their colleagues and commanders, she said, adding, "There isn't a climate by which they can receive justice in this system" (Barnes, Wall Street Journal, 5/7).
Obama Calls for 'No Tolerance' Approach
President Obama on Tuesday reacted to the new figures by calling for a "no tolerance" approach to sexual crimes in the military. He also pledged to crack down on commanders who ignored the issue, saying he had spoken to Hagel and ordered that officers "up and down the food chain" get the message (Los Angeles Times, 5/7).
"I don't want just more speeches or ... awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look the other way," Obama said. He added, "We find out somebody's engaging in this stuff, they've got to be held accountable; prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period. It's not acceptable" (Epstein, Politico, 5/7).