Sexual Assault is a crime. In the military, it is an unconscionable crime because it occurs within a brotherhood and sisterhood whose lives depend on each other’s ability to support the other in times of combat. Any corruption within the system will mean lives lost. The recognition of this fact and the seriousness of this situation have been acknowledged by the upper echelon, but how to handle sexual assault cases has been difficult within the structure of the military. In a 2011 ‘Newsweek’ article, it stated that military women run a greater risk of being sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier than dying in combat.
The Army Study Guide defines Sexual Assault as: “… a crime defined as intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, physical threat or abuse of authority or when the victim does not or cannot consent. Sexual Assault includes: rape, nonconsensual sodomy (oral or anal sex), indecent assault (unwanted, inappropriate sexual contact or fondling); and attempts to commit these acts.”
Each year the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Sexual Assault Prevention Response (SAPR) program are required, by law, to provide Congress with an annual report. The latest report, 2013, is for the year 2012, which covers the period October 1, 2011 to September 30, 2012. Unlike some other journalists, this author will present the statistics as listed in the report without sensationalizing them, and allow you, the reader, to draw your own conclusions. The report opens, “Sexual Assault is a crime that has no place in the Department of Defense (DoD). It is an attack on the values we defend and on the cohesion our units demand, and forever changes the lives of victims and their families.”
The report specifies that 6.1% of Active duty women and 1.2% of active duty men revealed experiencing Unwanted Sexual Contact (USC). For women this is a significant increase over the previous year’s measure (year 2011) which reported 4.4%. For men the increase shown was ‘statistically insignificant.’
The military has provided a Sexual Assault website and telephone hotline to aid military personnel. It is called ‘Safe Hotline.’ It is operated by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. For the year 2012, the website received 49,000 unique visitors, as compared to the 19,000 for the year 2010. Of the 49,000 individuals that used the ‘Safe Hotline,’ 4,600 received specialized care.
For the year 2012, there were 3,374 reports of Sexual Assault involving service members encompassing a range of crimes prohibited under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). This is a 6% increase over those received in the year 2011. Of the 3,374 reports 2,949 involved service member victims and of these 2,558 were unrestricted reports. Military Services initially accepted 981 Restricted Reports, but 165 of those reports were changed to unrestricted reports, at the victim’s request.
The proper handling of certain Sexual Assault cases is considered paramount to the Secretary of Defense. Under a directive, to ensure these cases were handled by experienced, seasoned Officers utilizing legal counsel, Commanders with the rank of O-6 (Colonel/Navy Captain) or higher are now engaged to oversee disciplinary action taken under the UCMJ.
By the end of the year 2012, there were 2,661 out of 3,288 military and civilian subjects receiving and/or awaiting disposition of allegations. Of the 2,661, it was determined that 947 of these fell outside of legal authority or the allegations were unfounded. The resulting 1,714 investigations were turned over to military Commanders for attention and further action towards possible disciplinary action. The military Commanders determined 509 of the 1,714 had evidentiary problems, and an additional 81 were unfounded allegations. Of the remaining 1,124 cases, 880 Sexual Assault cases warranted discipline, and another 244 cases were subject to charges other than Sexual Assault under other UCMJ. An estimated 68% (598) of Sexual Assault cases went to court-martial. In the year 2010, only 96 cases went to court-martial.
These are the numbers reported by the DoD and SAPR for the year 2012. In a separate Air Force investigation, their findings indicate, 1 in 5 women, and 1 in 15 males have been Sexually Assaulted by service members. Comparing these numbers, to the national averages published by RAINN of 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men being Sexually Assaulted annually, the differences are obvious. The Pentagon also estimates that 80% to 90% of sexual assault cases go unreported because of either fear of repercussions and/or the embarrassment that could follow reporting.
The DoD and SAPR have instituted a number of strategies and programs to encourage reporting, protect victims, and to encourage faith in the military justice system. Some of these are:
* An expanded and more vigorous training and education program about Sexual Assault.
* Create a positive Command climate.
* Have seasoned Officers of the rank O-6 or higher responsible for the disposition of cases.
* Retention of Sexual Assault records for a period of 50 years.
* Increased care for victims.
* Add a full-time Sexual Assault Response Coordinator and a Victim Advocate to each Brigade or equivalent unit.
* Increased First Responder Training.
* Centralized data collection, analysis, reporting and case monitoring center.
For Veterans suffering from the after-effects of Sexual Assault, the Veterans Administration has programs for you. Their term is Military Sexual Trauma (MST) instead of Sexual Assault. Call your nearest VA Facility and ask to speak to the MST Coordinator. These people are well trained and can provide or facilitate or coordinate any number of programs that may be available to help you. All treatments for physical and mental health problems related to MST are free through the VA. Both inpatient and outpatient MST treatments are available. You do not have to have a VA disability rating and you may qualify for these benefits even if you do not qualify for other VA care. You do not have to have reported you sexual assault(s) when they occurred, and you do not have to have proof of the sexual assault. The services available are accessible to both women and men equally.