December 5, 2014 — The number of military members filing sexual assault reports increased by 8% during the fiscal year ending in September, according to a recent Pentagon survey, the New York Times reports. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel released the report on Thursday.
The increase follows a 50% spike in reported incidents in FY 2013, according to the Times (Cooper, New York Times, 12/3).
The anonymous survey was conducted by RAND (Baldor, AP/U-T San Diego, 12/4).
According to the survey, 5,983 sexual assaults were reported in FY 2014, up from 5,518 reported assaults in FY 2013 and marking a much smaller increase than the large spike from FY 2012 to FY 2013.
However, fewer service members reported experiencing such assaults overall compared with FY 2012. Specifically, the Pentagon estimated that about 19,000 men and women in the military experienced "unwanted sexual contact" in FY 2014, down from about 26,000 individuals in 2012 (Whitlock, Washington Post, 12/3). That figure includes roughly 10,500 men and 8,500 women, according to the report (AP/U-T San Diego, 12/4).
Obama administration and Pentagon officials said the survey shows that military members who experience sexual assault are more willing to report the incidents than they were in the past (New York Times, 12/3). According to the survey, 24% of military sexual assault survivors reported the incident to a military authority during FY 2014, an increase from 11% who reported such incidents in FY 2012 (Washington Post, 12/3).
The report comes amid continued congressional calls to address the prevalence of sexual assault in the military. Such efforts include pushes to overhaul how the incidents are handled to ensure survivors do not experience retaliation after reporting the assaults. According to the survey, more than 60% of women who reported some form of undesired sexual contact said they experienced retaliation. Further, most of the women said they endured social backlash from co-workers or other military members.
According to AP/U-T San Diego, the figures are preliminary and could be updated as reports are finalized (AP/U-T San Diego, 12/4).
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said in a statement, "Reporting of assaults being up and incidents of assault being down are exactly the combination we're looking for" (Washington Post, 12/3).
Meanwhile, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has led efforts to reform the military's reporting process for sexual assaults, said, "For a year now we have heard how the reforms in the previous defense bill were going to protect victims, and make retaliation a crime," adding, "It should be a screaming red flag to everyone when 62 percent of those who say they reported a crime were retaliated against -- nearly two-thirds -- the exact same number as last year" (AP/U-T San Diego, 12/4).
Sen. Gillibrand Calls for Another Vote on Reform Measure
In related news, Gillibrand is leading a renewed effort to have Congress reconsider a measure (S 1752) to overhaul how sexual assault cases are handled in the military, the New York Times reports (Peters/Huetteman, New York Times, 12/2).
The Senate earlier this year rejected the measure, which Gillibrand sponsored, in a 55-45 vote, which fell short of the 60 votes needed to move the bill forward. The bill would have removed military cases involving crimes punishable by more than one year of confinement from the chain of command (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/7).
According to the Times, various high-profile cases regarding sexual assaults have spurred Gillibrand to ask for another vote on the measure before the end of this year as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (New York Times, 12/2).
Gillibrand is backed by a bipartisan group of senators that also called for reconsideration of the measure on Tuesday (Riechmann, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 12/2).
However, Gillibrand could face pushback from some lawmakers who do not want to rehash debate on the topic, after more modest changes were enacted earlier this year. Particularly, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has said he does not want to allow for amendments to the NDAA because it would open the door to other requests (New York Times, 12/2).
Gillibrand noted that if the Senate does not reconsider the measure, she will mull action to delay confirmation of a new secretary of defense. In addition, she said she would press President Obama to take executive action on the issue (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 12/2).