Sexual Assault Reports Rise Sharply in Armed Forces

In 2004, military criminal investigators received 1,700 allegations of sexual assault involving members of the armed forces worldwide. These allegations included 1,275 incidents in which a service member was the victim, and 1,305 incidents in which a service member was allegedly the perpetrator. There were 1.5 million active-duty troops and members of the Reserve and National Guard that year.

The 1,700 reports is a dramatic increase from past years. The military had reports of 1,012 alleged sexual assaults in 2003, and 901 reports in 2002.

The armed services have taken steps to encourage reporting this year, which leaders say may account for some of the increase in 2004. “We are not alarmed about what appears on the surface to be a very substantial increase,” Army Lt. Col. Joe Richard told Reuters, noting that the environment has changed and victims can now expect more support and confidentiality.

However, activists caution, many if not most sexual assaults still may not be reported.

By the end of 2004, law enforcement authorities had completed 1,232 of the 1,700 investigations, and 340 cases were still pending. Commanders took punitive action against 393 offenders, and concluded that the charges could not be substantiated in another 351 cases. In 278 cases, they say, lack of information on the assailant prevented commanders from taking action.

The Miles Foundation criticized the response, noting that punishment was “nonjudicial” in many cases, despite the fact that sexual assault is a crime.

The Department of Defense defines sexual assault as intentional sexual contact characterized by use of force, physical threat or abuse of authority, or when the victim does not or cannot consent.

In October, the Department established the Joint Task Force for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, which is responsible for policy affecting sexual assault.

The Department’s executive summary is available at www.defenselink.mil/news/May2005/d20050506summary.pdf

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