Rates of sexual assault against women in the U.S. military have increased by approximately 40 percent over the past three years, a new survey released by the Defense Department has revealed.
Thursday’s publication of the annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military estimated that there were at least 20,500 incidents of “unwanted sexual contact” experienced by servicemembers in 2018. Some 63 percent of said assaults were experienced by women, despite the fact that women make up only 20 percent of the military. In total, one out of every 16 military women reported being groped, raped or assaulted this past year — including one out of every 10 women serving in the Marine Corps.
The figures were a chilling reminder of the Pentagon’s failure to secure the safety of its servicewomen, despite the millions of dollars spent by the military in recent years on prevention efforts, education programs and resources for victims.
In response to the crisis, a growing number of legislators and activists have been pushing to change the Pentagon’s policy of giving military commanders legal authority over sexual assault cases impacting soldiers in their units. California Rep. Jackie Speier has championed a push to have independent prosecutors handle sexual assault cases, arguing that many commanders absolve subordinates of sexual assault, retaliate against women who report and in some instances are even found to be culpable of the very crimes they’re supposed to prosecute.
“The old ways aren’t working, and it’s getting worse, not better,” said Don Christensen, a retired Air Force judge and chief prosecutor who serves as the president of Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for victims of sexual assault in the military.
Even as the number of sexual assaults being reported in the military surged, he noted, the latest Defense Department report showed that the average reporting rate for women was decreasing. Victims, he said, had little confidence in obtaining justice and justifiable concerns about facing retaliation. The Defense Department’s report showed that only about 300 cases involving sexual assault last year were prosecuted. Most were instead resolved internally by commanders who issued punishments of their own choosing, such as verbal admonishments.
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