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Military sex assault reports rise 50%

FILE - In this Jan. 29, 2014, file photo, parts of more than 1,000 summeries of sex-crime cases involving U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan, which The Associated Press obtained following Freedom of Information Act requests filed with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Naval Criminal Investigative Service, are displayed at the AP office in Tokyo. Reports of sexual assaults in the military rose 50 percent after the Pentagon began a vigorous campaign to get more victims to come forward, prompting defense officials to order a greater focus on prevention programs, including plans to review alcohol sales and policies.  (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

FILE - In this Jan. 29, 2014, file photo, parts of more than 1,000 summeries of sex-crime cases involving U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan, which The Associated Press obtained following Freedom of Information Act requests filed with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Naval Criminal Investigative Service, are displayed at the AP office in Tokyo. Reports of sexual assaults in the military rose 50 percent after the Pentagon began a vigorous campaign to get more victims to come forward, prompting defense officials to order a greater focus on prevention programs, including plans to review alcohol sales and policies. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday that sexual assaults are a threat to both women and men in uniform and that the Pentagon must do more to fight a culture that discourages victims from reporting assaults.

Reports of sexual assaults by members of the military rose 50 percent after the Pentagon began a vigorous campaign to get more victims to come forward, according to the Pentagon’s annual report on sexual assaults, released Thursday.

Hagel said he is ordering six new initiatives, including efforts to get more male victims to come forward and a review of alcohol sales and policies. He says the review must address the risks of alcohol being used as a weapon by predators. Final data obtained by The Associated Press show that about 14 percent of the reports filed last year involved male victims.

“There is still a misperception that this is a women’s issue and women’s crime,” said Nate Galbreath, the senior executive adviser for the Pentagon’s sexual assault prevention office. “It’s disheartening that we have such a differential between the genders and how they are choosing to report.”

Hagel called on the military services to step up efforts to encourage troops to intervene in assault situations and work with military bases and local communities to better train bar workers and promote more responsible alcohol sales. According to officials, alcohol was a factor in as many as two-thirds of the cases. While the number of reported assaults shot up sharply in 2013, defense officials said that based on survey data and other information, they believe the increase was largely due to victims feeling more comfortable coming forward. Overall, there were 5,061 reports of sexual abuse filed in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, compared with 3,374 in 2012, for a 50 percent gain. About 10 percent of the 2013 reports involved incidents that occurred before the victim got into the military, up from just 4 percent in 2012.

“There is no indication that this increase in reporting constitutes an increase in crime,” said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, director of the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. “We assess that this unprecedented increase is consistent with a growing confidence in the response systems.”

Officials said prosecutions also have increased. Galbreath said the military was able to take some action against 73 percent of the accused perpetrators who were subject to the military justice system. In 2012 it was 66 percent. Some cases involve perpetrators who are not in the military so are not subject to commander’s actions or military courts.

A key finding in that survey was that, in sheer numbers, more men than women said they had been assaulted. About 6.8 percent of women surveyed said they were assaulted and 1.2 percent of the men. But there are vastly more men in the military; by the raw numbers, a bit more than 12,000 women said they were assaulted, compared with nearly 14,000 men.

The military, Galbreath said, needs to get the message out that this is not just a women’s problem.

“It’s not the damsel in distress; it’s your fellow service member that might need you to step in,” he said, adding that troops need to treat it like any other need for aid, just like on the battlefield.

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