January 2, 2014 — President Obama on Dec. 26 signed into law a defense authorization bill that includes several changes to how the military addresses sexual assault, USA Today reports (USA Today, 12/26/13).
The legislation bars military commanders from overturning jury convictions for sexual assaults (Lederman, AP/Sacramento Bee, 12/26/13). The measure also includes minimum sentencing guidelines for perpetrators of sexual assaults, expands a special victim's counsel program for sexual assault survivors throughout the military and makes it a crime to retaliate against a person who reports a sexual assault.
Under the measure, military courts of investigation -- known as Article 32 hearings -- looking into criminal complaints, including sexual assault, would act similarly to preliminary hearings considering whether there is probable cause for a court-martial. Under the current system, sexual assault accusers are brought before investigators and questioned in cross-examination (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/20/13).
Military Sexual Assault Reports Up by 50%, Data Show
In related news, the number of reported sexual assaults in the military increased by more than 50% in 2013, according to data obtained by the Associated Press, the AP/U-T San Diego reports.
According to the data, more than 5,000 reports of sexual assaults were filed in fiscal year 2013, compared with 3,374 filed in 2012. About 10% of the 2013 reports involved incidents that occurred before the victim was enrolled in the military, up from about 4% of incidents in 2012. The increase varied among military branches, with the Air Force reporting the smallest increase at 45%, the Navy reporting a 46% increase, the Army reporting a 50% increase and the Marines reporting the largest increase at 86%.
According to AP/U-T San Diego, defense officials believe the higher numbers suggest that sexual assault survivors are more willing to report the crimes and better able to identify what constitutes sexual harassment and assault. The officials added that focus groups, surveys and multiple meetings with service members suggest that the actual number of assaults have remained steady (Baldor, AP/U-T San Diego, 12/27/13).