A May, 2015 Department of Defense press briefing on sexual assault in the military revealed a new commitment by top military personnel to acknowledge and better understand the alarmingly high rate of sexual assault in the American military.
Under increasing pressure to address the rate of sexual assault in the military, the Defense Department created the Care for Victims of Sexual Assault Task Force in 2004. The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) office was created in 2005 to meet the need for a more centralized and comprehensive effort on the issue.
Several years into the creation of SAPR, military officials are still grappling with how to dramatically reduce and eliminate sexual assault in the military. Among the biggest concerns is the apparent far-reaching culture of retaliation against those who come forward as a victim or report the sexual assault of a colleague. Apart from victimizing the injured party twice, this issue makes it highly likely that many people do not report being sexually assaulted for fear of retaliation. This issue means that the number of sexual assaults reported each year is likely dramatically lower than the reality.
Key military sexual assault information revealed in 2015 briefing:
- The military announced a new and different measurement method aimed at better estimating how many service members experienced a sexual assault based on the range of crimes that military law defines as sexual assault. The military will no longer use “unwanted sexual contact” complaints as part of their sexual assault reporting.
- More time is being spent to understand how sexual assault is affecting men in the military verses women. Men are even less likely than women to report a sexual assault, more likely to experience multiple incidents by multiple offenders and are more likely to view the incident as hazing or an attempt to humiliate.
- A report completed for 2014, found that up to 22 percent of active-duty women and seven percent of active-duty men may have experienced some form of sexual harassment over the course of the year. In addition to this statistic being horrific on its own, it was found that those who experience sexual harassment are more likely to be sexually assaulted. The military voiced a commitment to better eliminate permissive behaviors like sexual harassment.
- The military acknowledged that they have to make more progress to reduce the culture of retaliation.
The Department of Defense worked aggressively during fiscal year 2015 to address six key program efforts:
- Advancing sexual assault prevention
- Encouraging greater reporting
- Reporting sexual harassment complaints
- Improving response to male victims
- Combating retaliation associated with sexual assault reporting
- Tracking accountability in the military justice system
According to the 2015 Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military, the military services received a total of 6,083 reports of sexual assault involving service members as either victims or subjects throughout fiscal year 2015; 48 or 1 percent less than the 6,131 assaults reported in fiscal year 2014. The Pentagon then clarified that while the number of reports has decreased, so has the size of the military, so that proportionally the rates are the same: four in every 1,000 service members will report an act of sexual assault in a given year.
Additionally, the military services and the National Guard Bureau received, processed and referred for investigation a total of 657 Military Equal Opportunity formal complaints alleging sexual harassment in fiscal year 2015.
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