Mixed News on Sexual Violence in the Military

Reports of sexual assault are beginning to drop in the military, following sharp increases in 2005 and 2006 – but more military women say they experienced sexual harassment in 2007 than in the recent past. Those are the conclusions of two studies released by the U.S. Department of Defense in March.

In Fiscal Year 2007, 2,688 sexual assault reports were filed that involved service members as subject and/or victim, according to the Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2007 Report on Sexual Assault in the Military. This is a drop from the 2,947 cases reported in Fiscal Year 2006.

Restricted reporting, which provides a victim with support services without initiating a criminal investigation process and preserves the victim’s anonymity, continues to be the option chosen by many victims. Of the 2,688 reports made, 705 were under the restricted program. In 102 of these cases, victims later decided to pursue legal charges and switched their report to unrestricted.

“Even if these numbers are accurate, the problem of violence against women in the military remains pervasive,” Congresswoman Louise M. Slaughter said in a statement.

The Defense Department also released its 2006 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Members, which finds that 34 percent of active duty women and six percent of active duty men say they have experienced sexual harassment, and 6.8 percent of women and 1.8 percent of men say they have experienced unwanted sexual contact. It was released by the Defense Department’s Manpower Data Center, and is based on a sample of 23,595 respondents.

As mandated by Congress, the Gender Relations study is conducted every four years. The percentage of women who say they have been sexually harassed is up from the 2002 survey, but down from the 1995 survey. Officials said the drop reported in the 2002 might have been an aberration, because that survey was conducted just a few months after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, when women may have been reluctant to report problems.

Women in the Army were more likely than women in other services to experience unwanted sexual contact, and women in the Air Force least likely. Junior enlisted female members were more likely than senior enlisted female members to experience unwanted sexual contact.

The new survey also finds that most personnel think the military’s training on sexual harassment is effective. Active duty members gave positive marks for improvement in Department of Defense sexual misconduct training. About 90 percent said they received training in the previous year on topics related to sexual harassment and sexual assault, and that their training was effective. More than 80 percent reported the Department’s sexual harassment and sexual assault policies and procedures were well publicized.

Pentagon officials say they will continue to partner with organizations within and outside of the Department of Defense to evaluate the effectiveness of its policies, identify prevention opportunities and strategies, and monitor victim services.

The new reports on sexual assault in the military are available online at www.sapr.mil.

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