Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Military Sexual Assaults On the Rise

Jim Fausone
Veteran Disability Attorney

The military has been subject to a number of high profile sexual assault news items in recent weeks. Currently Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, the Air Force's head of sexual assault prevention, is under investigation for allegedly groping a woman in North Virginia, while more than 30 Texas-based instructors with the Air Force are under investigation regarding assault charges against trainees.

Although military sexual assaults have been garnering increased attention due to these latest, high-profile news stories, according to the latest estimates, the majority of military sexual assaults still go unreported. There were possibly as many as 26,000 assaults in 2012, according to a new report released by the Pentagon.

Of the estimated 26,000 military members who may have been sexually assaulted in 2012, just over 3,300 made a report, and fewer than 800 sought assistance while declining to file a complaint. The victims of military sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact are usually young, low-ranking service members. The perpetrators are usually also in the armed forces.
Two House members, Reps. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass, and Mike Turner, R-Ohio, have proposed a bill that would strip officers of their authority to dismiss or change the court-martial conviction of sexual assault and other major cases, and would require the dismissal or dishonorable discharge of anyone found guilty of the attempt of or act of rape, sexual assault, or forcible sodomy. Their goal, said Turner, is to establish guidelines for the punishment for sexual assault convictions and to remove that punishment from the chain of command.

The Pentagon's report indicated that sexual assault reporting is on the rise, from an estimated 26,000 assaults in 2012 from an estimated 19,000 assaults in 2011.   According to the report, at least 6 percent of the more than 1 million active duty members in 2012, both men and women, reported unwanted sexual contact. A significant percentage of the offenders were either Defense Department civilians or contractors or active military members.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has instructed military leaders to design a way to hold commanders accountable for fostering an environment of "dignity and respect," including a July 1 deadline to complete visual inspections of workspaces to ensure they do not include the display of degrading materials.

Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., recently introduced legislation which would prohibit sexual contact between instructors and trainees for the duration of basic training and for an additional 30 days after training is completed, and which would provide sexual assault victims with a lawyer advocate trained in sexual assault complaints, and which would make available to the National Guard and Reserve trained sexual assault response coordinators. Murphy stated that not only are service members failed by the system by having a climate in which assaults happen, but they are further failed by not having a support system in place for victims after the incident.

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