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Sexual assault in the ranks remains a critical problem

  • May 02, 2015

WASHINGTON — Sexual assault remains a stubborn scourge for the military with more than 20,000 incidents of unwanted sexual contact occurring in 2014, according to data released Friday by the Pentagon and the RAND Corp.

The reports cover the same data released in December by the White House but delve into the issue in greater detail and validate the initial results. The 20,300 instances of unwanted sexual contact among 1.3 million active-duty troops means that nearly 5% of women and 1% of men endured some form of assault, from unwanted touching to rape. About 170,000 troops took part in the survey.

The Pentagon’s own survey showed fewer assaults. In 2014, the Pentagon estimated there were 19,000 incidents of unwanted sexual contact, down 27% from 2012 when about 26,000 incidents occurred.

Since 2013, Pentagon leaders have declared stamping it out a critical priority. Congress has intervened, ordering dozens of changes in the way cases are prosecuted and victims cared for.

Among the new findings: nearly two thirds, or 65%, of victims reported the assaults occurred on a military base or ship; 89% of female victims and 81% of male victims said their assailant was in the military; and 54% of both sexes said the perpetrator outranked them. The reports from RAND and the Pentagon also showed that retaliation against victims affected about two-thirds of them.

“Despite our efforts to date, our fight against sexual assault is far from over,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter wrote in a memo to Pentagon leaders. “I am concerned that far too many who report the crime perceive some kind of retaliation with doing so.”

“In short, the report makes it clear that we have to do more,” Carter said Friday.

Survey results, for the first time, shone a light on sexual assault against men in the military. Their survey was large enough, RAND researchers say, to characterize assaults against men. They were more likely than women to have been victimized multiple times, by multiple offenders and to have more offenders assault them in a single incident.

In the Marine Corps, about half of the 2,300 victims who indicated they experienced unwanted sexual contact last year were men, Col. Scott Jensen, who leads sexual assault prevention and response programs for the Marines, told a small group of reporters. Yet only 22% of those male victims reported it as a sexual assault.

Assaults ranged from “towels snapping” to a Marine having an item thrust into his anus, Jensen said.

“What we’re hearing from our male Marines is, ‘Oh, I wasn’t sexually assaulted. It was just harassment.’ Or, ‘It was just a hazing incident,'” Jensen said.

Neither is acceptable to the Marine leaders, Jensen said, and the corps is exploring ways to encourage victims to report through outreach and training.

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