DOD Report Shows Sexual Assault On the Rise in the Military
Although the number of sexual assault cases in the military increased significantly, the report rate for these incidents slightly decreased.
According to the Department of Defense’s annual report, sexual assault is still widespread in the U.S. Armed Forces, with recent statistics showing a 38 percent increase in cases of sexual assault among women in the military.
To meet Congress’ requirements that the Department of Defense (DoD) publishes an annual report of documented cases of sexual assault in the United States Armed Forces, the Department released their report for the Fiscal Year 2018 this past April.
The DoD’s definition of “sexual assault” covers a variety of crimes, including “rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy, aggravated sexual contact, abusive sexual contact, and attempts to commit these offenses.”
Significant Increase in Sexual Assault Among Female Service Members, But No Change Among Males
Of the 100,000 active duty troops who were surveyed, about .7 percent of men reported being sexually assaulted in the year prior to the survey, the same percentage as 2016. However, there was a dramatic increase in reports from women. Approximately 6.2 percent of active duty women reported experiencing sexual assault, up from 4.3 percent in 2016.
In 2016, approximately 14,900 active duty service members were sexually assaulted. Based on this number and the percentage rates, the Department estimates that about 13,000 women and 7,500 men – totaling 20,500 service members – “experienced some kind of contact or penetrative sexual assault in 2018.”
Sexual Assault Happens Most Often Between Enlisted Members Who are Peers in Rank
According to survey results, the majority of sexual assaults happen between service members between the ages of 17 and 24 who “work, train, or live in close proximity.” Women reported that their offenders were typically men whom they knew and considered a friend or acquaintance, often acting alone. The offenders generally had the same rank as their victims, or sometimes one rank higher.
Men were sexually assaulted less frequently than women, but they reported different combinations of offenders. Slightly more than 50 percent of men who experienced sexual assault said their offender was male, 30 percent specified their offender was female and 13 percent indicated their offenders were a combination of males and females together.
Only 1 in 3 Service Members Report Their Attack
Although the number of sexual assault cases increased significantly, the report rate for these incidents slightly decreased. About one in three service members who are sexually assaulted report it to the Department of Defense.
In June 2005, the Department sanctioned the Restricted Reporting option to persuade more people to report sexual assault. Although reporting rates have quadrupled in the last decade, they have slightly declined in the last few years. The reporting rate dropped from 32 percent in 2016 to 30 percent in 2018.
Workplace Climate Affects Risk of Sexual Assault
According to the Department’s survey results, most service members reported having generally healthy workplace environments. Risk of sexual assault increased significantly for those who reported having experienced workplace hostility, sexual harassment or gender discrimination.
The report showed that men who encountered sexual harassment were 12 times more likely to experience sexual assault, whereas women who encountered sexual harassment were three times more likely to experience sexual assault.
“Survey results found a positive correlation between unhealthy workplace climates and the risk of sexual assault,” the Department’s report concluded.
The Department of Defense’s 2019 Prevention Plan
The Department of Defense plans to furnish the Prevention Plan of Action, “a coordinated approach to optimize the Department prevention system with targeted efforts towards this young cadre of military members and others at increased risk for sexual assault perpetration or victimization.”
Additionally, the Department plans to give training to supervisors of junior services members (ages 17-24) to better prepare them to promote and maintain “respectful workplaces.” During the summer of 2019, the Department has arranged to orchestrate “focus groups” for enlisted members between the ages of 17 and 24 “to identify actions and initiatives that may more effectively shift behavior” among that age group.
The Department will also initiate the Catch A Serial Offender Program, which will allow enlisted personnel who make “Restricted Reports” to confidentially report information about their assault and attacker. If the same attacker is found in additional cases of sexual assault, the victim will be contacted and given the option to convert their report to Unrestricted and utilize the “military justice process.”
New Legislation Would Bypass the Military in the Sexual Assault Arbitration Process
In early March, Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) revealed during a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing on sexual assault in the Armed Forces that she was raped when she served in the Air Force. McSally told those present that she never reported the assault because she did not trust the system. She tearfully continued that the incident almost caused her to leave the military.
“So like you, I am also a military sexual assault survivor,” McSally said to the witnesses at the hearing. “Like many victims, I felt the system was raping me all over again. But I didn’t quit, I decided to stay.”
After telling those present at the hearing that she had been “preyed upon and raped by a superior officer,” McSally emphasized that commanding officers “must not be removed from the decision making responsibility of preventing, detecting, and prosecuting military sexual assault.”
Sen. McSally’s revelation sparked increased awareness of the issue of sexual assault in the military. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) has recently initiated legislation that would bypass the military in the sexual assault arbitration process and create an independent prosecutor.
“We’re not talking about special treatment. We’re talking about giving service members the same rights as their spouses, federal workers, and even prisoners,” Speier said. “When compensation schemes are insufficient, service members should have their claims heard in the justice system.”