Military Sexual Assault Cases on the Rise

by Evan Seymour According to a Pentagon study released Tuesday, a staggering 26,000 members of t...

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by Evan Seymour

According to a Pentagon study released Tuesday, a staggering 26,000 members of the military were sexually assaulted last year – a 35% increase since 2010. That amounts to 70 sex crimes in the military per day.

The worsening statistics are a slap in the face to the Pentagon’s recent efforts to curb military sexual abuse.

“Sexual assault is a despicable crime and one of the most serious challenges facing this department,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said to reporters during a briefing in response to the study.

The Defense Secretary went on to outline a new 8-point strategy for addressing the issue of sexual assault in the armed forces. The initiative will be carried out by the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO), the same office that produced the study.

President Obama is demanding a “no tolerance” stance towards perpetrators, regardless of rank. Obama told reporters he has already spoken to Defense Secretary Hagel about the report’s findings.

“I expect consequences,” Obama told reporters at the White House. “If we find out someone is engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed.”

The release of the report comes on the heels of high profile assault allegations against Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski , the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Response and Prevention chief. In effect, the person in charge of protecting men and women in uniform from assault is himself accused of a sex-related crime. Col. Krusinski is accused of groping the breasts and behind of a civilian woman in a bar parking lot in Arlington, VA, not far from the Pentagon. He has been suspended from his duties in the wake of the investigation.

Despite the high rate of sexual assault. The numbers of women in the armed services continues to increase. More than 200,000 women are in the active duty military according to Pentagon statistics. A Pew Research study found 1/3 of those women are African-American. Those servicewomen who find themselves the victims of assault often face lifelong challenges associated with their trauma. The Service Woman’s Action Network (servicewoemen.org/military-sexual-violence) reports:

While rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment … are the leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among women veterans. Sexual violence is often a risk factor for homelessness among women veterans. Stress, depression, and other mental health issues associated with surviving military sexual violence make it more likely that survivors will of experience high rates of substance abuse and will have difficulty finding work after discharge from the military.

Often, these women do not want to come forward out of fear of being ostracized, threated or ignored. Of last year’s 26,000 alleged incidents of sexual assault, only 1,100 resulted in action against the suspected perpetrators.

There are several members of Congress looking to change these numbers. Supporters of reform include Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Kelly Ayotte (MR-NH), who have introduced the Combat Military Sexual Assault (MSA) Act of 2013.

“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.

The bill’s provisions include increased jurisdiction for the DoD’s Sexual Abuse Response and Prevention Office and the allotment of Special Victims Council to assist the victim throughout the military’s proceedings.

During a recent appearance on Democracy Now, Anu Bhagwati, executive director and co-founder of Service Women’s Action Network, spoke with optimism about the proposed changes:
The military can’t hide this issue anymore, and therefore victims inside the military feel a little bit safer that there’s a community out there that is going to support them and that finally believes them. I mean, this has been happening for decades. But finally there’s a sense that, "OK, I’m not alone.”

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