Sexual Assault Reports In The Armed Forces Are UpS

Jessica was sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier during her time in the military. A new Pentagon report says there are far too many women like her.

The report — which doesn't account for the possibility that more women are reporting now than they previously did — is pretty sobering.

The Pentagon's annual report on sexual assault shows a sharp 8 percent increase overall in reports of sexual assault over last year's survey, but data compiled for the report show an even sharper 26 percent increase specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The military thinks that part of the increase in reports is because of a relatively new policy that allows victims to decide when and if to pursue charges against their attackers.

Filing the assaults under a category known as restricted reporting removes barriers in reporting sexual assault crimes for military victims. Under this option, victims get access to psychological and medical care, but choose not to pursue a criminal investigation while maintaining their anonyimity. The victims then have a year to pursue charges if they change their mind. Restricted reporting was first offered as an option a few years ago because Pentagon officials said some victims were foregoing services rather than participate in the investigative process and risk their commanders being notified.

Last year, nearly 800 victims chose this option, with 110 later choosing to move ahead with prosecutions.

They still have a way to go, however, when it comes to prosecutions.

The services investigated 2,763 cases in fiscal year 2008 of which 832 resulted in command action that included courts-martial, non-judicial punishment and other administrative actions or discharges. The 317 courts martial in fiscal year 2008 represented 38 percent of all command actions, an increase over the 30 percent in fiscal year 2007.

That means about 30 percent of victims saw any resolution to their cases.

According to the CBS story on Jessica:

The Pentagon acknowledges that some 80 percent of rapes are never reported - making it the most under-documented crime in the military.

Oof. Jessica says she didn't report her first rape attempt — by her commanding officer — but did report her second and didn't receive the assistance she needed. But there's something that hurt more.

"The betrayal issues to this day are still pretty deep," she said. "You know, I was like, ‘I'm willing to give my life for this guy next to me but how do I know that he's not going to hurt me?'"

The military is beginning to recognize that this is a big problem not just for the women who are being assaulted but for military culture.

Couric asked Michael Dominguez, principal under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, how big a problem sexual assault is in the military.

"Sexual assault injures troops," he said. "Injures readiness. So regardless of the numbers we have, it is by definition too much.

It also, as Jessica pointed out, really hurts morale.

In fact, the U.S. military recently unveiled a program to talk about the responsibility of male soldiers to not only watch their behavior, but to watch the behavior of other soldiers that might seek to cause harm to the women in their unit. Called "battle buddies," it attempts to instill the same sense of responsibility soldiers are supposed feel for one another on the battlefield in those soldiers under more mundane circumstances.

"We believe it is the duty of every soldier to intervene and stop incidents before they occur," said Carolyn Collins, program manager for the Army's Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention program. "Soldiers who fail to intervene and protect their fellow soldier from harassment or the risk of sexual assault have forsaken the warrior ethos to never leave a fallen comrade."

The Air Force is pushing a similar strategy.

"We … believe the most effective prevention efforts must be focused on airmen who by their participation in peer groups and activities might either actively or passively provide support or camouflage for the sexual predators in their midst," said Charlene Bradley, the Air Force's assistant deputy for force management integration.

In other words, the problem in a unit isn't the woman, it's the dudes who think rape is okay. Bystander intervention — interfering with the wall of silence that often surrounds soldiers that commit these crimes — is a large part of the military's strategy. Given the way that troops are rarely alone, particularly in combat zones, its undoubtedly rare that no one ever knows what happened when soldiers are sexually assaulted. If a few more of them have it drilled into their heads that the problem for the unit is the rapists and the soldiers who allow these criminals to get away with it, maybe the military can take aim both at stopping assaults, increasing reporting and maximizing conviction rates. Now if we can just expand their bystander intervention program into schools...

Sexual Assault Permeates U.S. Armed Forces [CBS]
DOD Sexual Assault Report [ABC News]
Battle Buddy Concept Combats Sex Assaults [Navy Times]