The report from the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office for Fiscal Year 2012 found a 6 percent rise in reported assaults over the last year, for a total of 3,374. But much more troubling is the estimated number of sexual assault incidents that were never officially reported. In last year’s report, there were an estimated 19,000 instances, but this year the number has jumped to an unprecedented 26,000 instances of assault, leaving thousands unreported.
The disparity in the total number of instances of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) compared to those fully reported — where the victim fills out an official report and action is taken — can be seen as being due to victims’ fears of retaliation, including possible discharge from service or being overlooked for a promotion. The new results line up with those seen in a 2011 Pentagon health survey released in April. According to that report, more female service members were willing to come forward about sexual abuse and assault, with roughly one in five women saying they were victims of unwanted sexual contact from another member of the military, but under reporting remains a serious issue.
“Sexual assault has no place in the United States military,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement released Monday night in reponse to news that Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, the Air Forces’s chief of sexual assault prevention, had been arrested on charges of sexual assault. “The American people, including our service members, should expect a culture of absolutely no tolerance for this deplorable behavior that violates not only the law, but basic principles of respect, honor, and dignity in our society and its military.”
Despite that pledge, assault and abuse in the military has been under increased scrutiny in recent months, following a series of high-profile scandals. In February, Lt. Col. James Wilkerson was reinstated into service after an Air Force general overturned a jury, voiding Wilkerson’s sexual assault conviction. In 2012, Lackland Air Force base saw 12 instructors investigated for sexual misconduct toward 31 trainees, with at least one trainer sentenced to twenty years for rape and sexual assault. Army Gen. Jeffery Sinclair was likewise charged in 2012 with sexually assaulting a female subordinate, then threatening her career if she went public.
On Monday, a female Air Force general — Lt. Gen. Susan Helms — found her career in question after a hold was placed on her nomination to become vice commander of Space Command. The reason? Her decision to overturn a case of aggravated sexual assault, much in the same fashion as seen in the Wilkerson case. Legislation is currently on the Hill to strike the ability of generals to overturn jury cases in instances of sexual assault, but the underlying problem remains.
To correct that problem, Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) will introduce the Combat Military Sexual Assault (MSA) Act of 2013 in the Senate on Tuesday. “It’s inexcusable for us to wait any longer to address this issue and I’m glad this bipartisan legislation is taking meaningful steps to do right by our nation’s heroes,”Murray said in a statement.