For the report, sexual assault was defined as rape, sodomy and other unwanted sexual contact, such as the unwanted touching of private body parts. The report did not include reports of sexual harassment, which are handled by a different military office.
According to the figures, sexual assault reports to the Department of Defense reached 3,553 complaints from October 2012 through June 2013, marking a nearly 50% increase from the first three-quarters of the previous fiscal year. The figures include sexual assaults by civilians on service members, as well as those by service members on civilians, the Times notes. DOD officials said the number of reported sexual assaults has continued to rise in subsequent months.
Pentagon, Congressional Response
Despite the sharp increase, military officials framed the higher number of reported complaints as a positive development, saying that it shows that sexual assault survivors are more willing to report the crimes. Maj. Gen. Gary Patton, director of DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said, "More reports means more victims are getting the necessary health care," adding that the reports are "a bridge to more cases being investigated by law enforcement and more offenders being held accountable."
The report also found that a large number of the sexual assaults occurred before the person reporting the crime joined the military. Patton said this suggests that people "have heard about the services and programs that [the military has] for victims, and they are walking in the door to get those services." He added, "This is a strong indicator that people have heard our message and believe we are going to take care of them."
The report comes amid continued concerns about the way the military handles sexual assaults and as Congress is considering changes to the military's judicial system. A congressional panel is holding public hearings on Thursday and Friday to assess the military's current progress on the issue. According to the Times, the Pentagon so far has taken steps such as providing military commanders with more education on preventing sexual assaults, expanding an Air Force program designed to provide survivors with direct legal counseling and increasing accountability in the chain of command (Steinhauer, New York Times, 11/7).