A senator who has been advocating for tougher safeguards against sexual abuse in the military today released a report that found more than half the cases from a handful of bases studied involved attacks on civilians or military spouses.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) noted that neither group is counted among the classifications of victims in Defense Department reports on the prevalence of sexual assault.
Gillibrand, who was chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel in the last Congress, began the review of four bases — Fort Hood, Camp Pendleton, Naval Station Norfolk, and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base — in February 2014. The senator requested that the Pentagon turn over “all reports and allegations of rape, forcible sodomy, sexual assault, sex in the barracks, adultery and attempts, conspiracies, or solicitations to commit these crimes” from the past five years.
Nearly a year after the request, the DoD only turned over 107 cases from 2013 despite the breadth of Gillibrand’s request. “The documents analyzed by our office suggest that civilians (including spouses) are especially vulnerable, and that the military justice system continues to struggle to provide justice,” the report states.
Nearly half of the reported victims declined to move forward with the legal process after initially filing a report, and of the remaining cases just 20 percent went to trial. Of those, half resulted in imprisonment or dishonorable discharge while the rest of the cases resulted in punishment such as docked pay or rank.
“We requested this data to understand what happens when reports are filed, how they are investigated and move forward within the military justice system and needless to say, the more we learn, the worse the problem gets,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “These 107 files are a snapshot of the thousands of estimated cases that occur annually – the latest projection for 2014 alone is 20,000 cases of sexual assault and unwanted sexual contact.”
“What we’ve found are alarming rates of assault among two survivor groups not routinely counted in DoD surveys, survivors declining to move forward with their cases and very low conviction rates,” she added. “Even with the much-lauded reforms, the system remains plagued with distrust and simply does not provide the fair and just process that survivors deserve.”
Of the reports studied by her office, 32 percent were filed by civilian woman, such as residents near bases, and 21 percent were filed by civilians married to a service member.
“This is over double the rate of civilian survivors that are listed in the DoD SAPRO Report (Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Annual Report for FY 2013). (This could be due to higher reporting at these bases, or a higher incidence of sexual assaults at these bases, but that is unknown.) The Department of Defense’s sexual assault surveys, which are the main source of data to quantify the prevalence of sexual assault in the military, only query servicemembers, and therefore only include projected statistics of how many servicemembers are survivors of military sexual assault,” Gillibrand’s report states.
About 73 percent of military spouses declined to pursue charges. “Of the 22 sexual assault incidents reported by spouses, in only one case did the military command proceed to trial, and in that case the husband was acquitted of the sexual assault. The military justice system is clearly failing these military spouses.”
“…An alarming number of cases appear to go cold when the accused and alleged survivor provide conflicting statements as to whether the sex was consensual. In particular, if the two parties have a previous sexual history, the alleged assailant is more likely to be believed. Of the 34 cases
in which the accused told the authorities that the sex was consensual, or denied it happened, the command took action just ten times. In these cases, there were zero convictions of sexual assault. Significantly, 27 of 34, or about 79% of these cases, did not go to trial.”
The report also charges that Norfolk provided a “strikingly low number of cases in proportion to the number of servicemembers” at the Naval Station, noting that the Fort Hood reporting appeared too low as well.
“The Department of Defense provided five 2013 Wright-Patterson Air Force Base sexual assault case files to Senator Gillibrand for consideration. Previously, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s Office of the Staff Judge Advocate released sexual assault statistics to the Dayton Daily News indicating that nine assaults had been reported in 2013. Moreover, the Wright-Patterson Sexual Assault Response Coordinator provided the Dayton Daily News with a different number of sexual assault reports in 2013: 25. Based on the different statistics provided, the number of reported sexual assaults at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 2013 is unclear, and may be underreported.”