US military claims progress in sexual assault scourge

The Pentagon said today a concerted campaign in the US military to persuade more victims of sexual assault to come forward was beginning to show progress, as the number of reported cases jumped 50 per cent last year.

AFP| Last Updated: May 02, 2014, 03:09 AM IST

Washington: The Pentagon said today a concerted campaign in the US military to persuade more victims of sexual assault to come forward was beginning to show progress, as the number of reported cases jumped 50 per cent last year.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said the results showed victims were more confident the military would take their cases seriously but voiced concern that large numbers of male victims were still unwilling to report being sexually assaulted.

The Pentagon`s annual report on sexual assaults "underscores that we have a long way to go before we get close to solving this problem," Hagel told reporters.

"We believe victims are growing more confident in our system. Because these crimes are underreported, we took steps to increase reporting, and that`s what we`re seeing," he said.

The Pentagon recorded 5,061 reports of sexual assault across the military last year, compared to 3,374 in 2012.
Citing estimates that more than half of all victims of sexual assault in the armed forces are men, Hagel said he had ordered measures designed to encourage more male troops to come forward.

"We have to fight the cultural stigmas that discourage reporting and be clear that sexual assault doesn`t occur because the victim is weak but rather because an offender disregards our values and the law," Hagel said.

In a 2012 survey, about 26,000 troops reported unwanted sexual contact, out of which more than 13,000 were men, officials said.

Heavy drinking is often cited as a major factor in sexual assault cases and Hagel said he had ordered a review of alcohol policies to address "the risks that alcohol is used as a weapon against victims in a predatory way."
More perpetrators also were being disciplined and charged in court-martial proceedings, Hagel said, citing the report.

In cases where the department had legal jurisdiction, commanders had sufficient evidence to take disciplinary measures against 73 percent of offenders, compared to 66 per cent of subjects in 2012, according to the report.

Officials said periodic surveys dating back to 2006 showed the prevalence of sexual assault had not increased in the military, even though the number of reported cases has steadily gone up.

The spike in reported assaults comes after a flurry of initiatives designed to reassure victims and bolster investigations.

US Senator Claire McCaskill, one of several female lawmakers that has focused attention on the issue and pushed for reforms, said the report showed "concrete progress."