Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at a press conference on the latest report from the DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office on May 1, 2014.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at a press conference on the latest report from the DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office on May 1, 2014. // Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Pentagon Says Reporting Is Up, But Sexual Assaults Are Not

There was a 50 percent increase in the number of reported sexual assaults in the military last year, according to a new report, but Pentagon officials say there hasn’t been a spike in the actual number of assaults.

“We believe victims are growing more confident in our system,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said during a Thursday briefing at the Pentagon. “Because these crimes are underreported, we took steps to increase reporting and that’s what we’re seeing.”

From fiscal year 2012 to 2013, the number of reported cases of sexual assault shot up from 3,374 to 5,061. which Hagel said was a result of the Defense Department’s two-year campaign to prevent sexual assault and get more victims to come forward. The figure includes everything from unwanted sexual contact to rape. Sixty-six percent of those cases had enough evidence to warrant disciplinary action in 2012, but that figure also jumped in 20123, when 73 percent saw disciplinary action.

The reports include instances where either the victim or the offender, or both, were members of the military. Officials said the vast majority of the allegations were made against younger, enlisted service members. About 10 percent of the reports were from instances of assault that occurred before the service member enrolled in the military and about 14 percent were reports made by men.

“The victims are getting their day in court and the results are the results,” said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, the head of DOD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, at the Pentagon.

Still, several members of Congress said it’s not enough to have more victims reporting and the Pentagon needs to do much more to combat the problem. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has led an effort to take sexual assault cases out of the military justice system. In a statement Thursday, she called the report “deeply troubling.”

“I am deeply worried by today’s data showing no increase in the prosecution and conviction rates compared to overall reporting. More reporting is not the end game. Justice and removing recidivist predators from the military so they can not commit more crimes to arrest the problem is the end game,” Gillibrand said. “More people coming forward and not receiving justice only further erodes trust in the system. These shocking numbers should spur Congress to act and finally put these cases in the hands of trained legal professionals to fix a system that is failing our brave men and women in uniform.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who has led a separate effort to curb military sexual assault, said it was encouraging to see more victims coming forward, but that “the fight is far from over.”

These numbers show concrete progress as our recent sweeping reforms continue to take root and more victims have the confidence in the system to come out of the shadows and report these crimes,” she said in a statement. “We know that the majority of survivors, both military and civilian, choose not to report their assaults-but this data suggests that the number of brave men and women in uniform choosing to pursue justice is increasing.”

Hagel said he would continue to battle the problem from the top down and announced several new initiatives, including further review of alcohol policies at military installations. Hagel said alcohol is often “used as a weapon against victims in a predatory way.” The Pentagon will also update its sexual assault prevention strategy every two years. The last time it was updated was 2008, he said.

The Defense Department is also partnering with the Centers for Disease Control, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and several colleges and universities to continue to develop best practices for sexual assault prevention. Hagel’s main message on Thursday was to the victims of military sexual assault: “We are listening to you,” he said. But he also urged service members to take action if they see inappropriate behavior. “We must hold ourselves accountable.”

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