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There is an ongoing problem with sexual assault in the U.S. military which has received extensive media coverage in the past several years. A 2012 Pentagon survey found that approximately 26,000 women and men were sexually assaulted. Of those, only 3,374 cases were reported. In 2013, a new pentagon study found that 5,061 troops reported cases of assault. Many people are optimistic that this 50% increase in reports is indicative of victims "growing more comfortable in the system." Of these reported, however, only 484 cases went to trial, and only 376 resulted in convictions. Ninety percent of the assault victims were eventually involuntarily discharged. Another investigation found that only one in five females and one in 15 males in the United States Air Force would report having been sexually assaulted by service members.
Incidents which have been publicized include the Tailhook scandal in 1991, the Aberdeen scandal in 1996 and the 2003 US Air Force Academy sexual assault scandal. In an attempt to deal with this problem, the Defense Department has issued the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Response policy. A provision in the fiscal 2004 National Defense Authorization Act required investigation and reporting regarding sexual harassment and assault at the United States military academies. A report was published in the New York Times magazine in March 2007 which surveyed women soldiers' experience in the Iraq War showing significant incidence of post traumatic stress syndrome resulting from the combination of combat stress and sexual assault. 15% of female veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who have visited a VA facility have screened positive for military sexual trauma.
The US Army Study Guide states:
The 2005 Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies report states:
A substantial increase in reported sexual assaults was reported at the 3 U.S. military academies for the school year 2010 to 2011. It is possible that the increase resulted only from increased willingness to report incidents; increased reporting has been one of the goals of the Department of Defense.
In September 2013, Congress received the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2013 Statutory Enforcement Report. The report found that during the 2012 fiscal year, there were 3,374 reports of sexual assault on military service members. 816 of these were not included in the commission report because they were confidential, restricted and not investigated. The report indicated that commanders are increasingly likely to refer sexual assault cases to court martial compared to the prior 4 years. In 15% of cases the accused perpetrator was permitted to resign or be discharge in lieu of court-martial.
The same commission report included the results of an anonymous survey of military personnel in which 23 percent of women and 4 percent of men reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact since enlistment. Based on this survey, the Department of Defense estimated that 26,000 service members experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact, from groping to rape, in the year 2012. 34 percent of women and 24 percent of men who reported these events in the anonymous survey stated that they had reported the event to authorities.
According to the USCCR report, a 2010 survey conducted by the Department of Defense found that 54 percent of women and 27 percent of men did not report because they feared retaliation; 47 percent of women and 20 percent of men did not report because they had heard other victims had a negative experience after reporting.
The Pentagon estimated that 26,000 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012, up from 19,000 in 2010. Of those cases, the Pentagon says, some involved attacks on men, mostly by other men. Out of 1,197,000 total enlisted men, approximately 1 to 2 percent are said to have experienced a sexual assault.
Recent statistics show that in terms of number of assaults, “half of the victims are men.” It also states that although rare, women have previously aided men in sexually assaulting other women. Turchik and Wilson found that “one problem that may be unique for men is confusion concerning sexual identity, masculinity, and sexual orientation after an assault, especially if the perpetrator is a man,” and that “homosexual victims may…feel that the assault was a punishment for being gay, whereas heterosexual victims may feel confused about sexuality and masculinity, especially if their body sexually responded during the assault.”
Studies of male sexual assault victims have shown that they become more prone to emotional, physical, and social difficulties after being assaulted, which is comparable to women. This shows that “[r]egardless of the victim’s gender…the consequences of sexual assault are both far reaching and acute.” However, “U.S. military rape law applies only to female victims and male perpetrators,” which “promote[s] the rape myths that men cannot be raped, [and] that women cannot be perpetrators.” Yet rape is largely unreported across all genders, and according to the documentary Invisible War, rape is an epidemic in the U.S. military.
4.1 Transition from the Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services to SAPRO
In 2004, the Department of Defense created the Care for Victims of Sexual Assault Task Force, whose findings indicated the need for a more powerful and centralized organization to address the issue. This led to the formation of the Joint Task Force for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, which eventually transitioned into the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO).
“The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) now serves as the Department's single point of authority for sexual assault policy and provides oversight to ensure that each of the Service's programs complies with DoD policy. It quickly obtained approval of DoD Instruction 6495.02, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program Procedures, making permanent all elements of the Department's sexual assault policy. In addition, it conducted a training conference for all SARCs. SAPRO, under the leadership of Major General Jeffrey J. Snow, continues to lead the Department's effort to transform into action its commitment to sexual assault prevention and response. This undertaking enjoys the support of leaders at all levels, and it will create a climate of confidence and trust where everyone is afforded respect and dignity.”
4.2 Mission of SAPRO
“The Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) serves as the single point of authority for program accountability and oversight, in order to enable military readiness and reduce -- with a goal to eliminate -- sexual assault from the military.”
4.3 Research and Reports
SAPRO oversees many studies, of which reports that are specifically directed towards sexual assault are only a part. The CDC, DMDC, USCCR, and White House are some of the sources that the SAPRO pulls its research and reports from. Under the Department of Defense, SAPRO is also responsible for releasing the Task Force Report on Sexual Assault in the Military Services, the most recent of which was published in 2009. The Task Force is charged with examining the issue of sexual assault in the military services and providing recommendations for legislation and policy-making based upon their findings.
The task force’s recommendations included expanding the reach and scope of SAPRO, increasing funding for sexual assault prevention and response programs, reducing variability in sexual assault prevention and response policies between the different branches of the military, raising standards for Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARC’s), and focusing sexual assault training more on prevention and quality than after-the-fact response. They also recommend improved victim advocacy – allowing for easier communication with victim advocates, better disclosure of victims’ rights, and access to attorneys – along with the formation of a database to track sexual assault information.
In February 2011, seventeen United States veterans filed suit against the Pentagon and defense secretary Robert Gates and former secretary Donald Rumsfeld, alleging that they allowed a culture in the military where rape was unevenly reported and punished. In several of the plaintiffs' cases, the victim had been forced to work with the accused rapist after reporting them for sexual assault. Unit commanders often have heavy influence over military rape cases, and less than one in five cases are prosecuted. The case was featured in an episode of The Passionate Eye.
In 2013, two male officers convicted by courts martial of sexual assault were given clemency consisting of having their convictions set aside by respective three-star generals, Lieutenant Generals Craig Franklin of the Third Air Force and Susan Helms of the 14th Air Force, Air Force Space Command and Joint Functional Component Command for Space, US Strategic Command. Only Franklin provided his rationale for overturning the conviction. In a six page memorandum, he outlined each piece of evidence in the case which caused him to conclude that there had not been proof beyond a reasonable doubt of the accused's guilt.
The clemency cases combined in public attention in May 2013 with the arrest of Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, the officer in charge of sexual assault prevention programs for the Air Force, for sexual battery. Krusinski was prosecuted by civilian authorities in Arlington, Virginia, and unanimously acquitted by a jury of even committing the lesser offense of assault and battery. The issue of sexual assault in the military then received new, sharp attention from President Obama and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, among others. Congressional concern over these events and the issue also brought Marines General Jim Amos, Air Force General Mark Welsh and the Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley to testify on the subject.
Within the next week in May 2013, along with an additional instance of military personnel with sexual assault prevention responsibilities being disciplined for actions at Fort Hood in Texas, another officer was removed from his position as the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Prevention (SHARP) Program Manager. The Officer, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Darin Haas was removed from the SHARP position at Fort Campbell Kentucky for allegedly violating an Order of Protection filed by his ex-wife (Alissa Owen) in October 2012 and stalking. LTC Haas was removed because of the publicity surrounding the Military's Sexual Assault Programs, and was never disciplined for any wrongdoing by the military or the civilian courts. The ex parte order of protection (an application in a judicial proceeding on behalf of one side or party only) filed against LTC Haas was supposed to be heard in court within fifteen (15) days of the filing so that LTC Haas Could have his side of the issues ruled on was delayed by his ex-wife and her attorney (Mark Olson) for almost 10 months. When his case finally was brought before Judge Jones in the Clarksville Montgomery County Courthouse in late July 2013 he had already been falsely arrested in May and July 2013, the order of protection was denied and the ex parte order was removed. A month later when the criminal charges of violating the order of protection and stalking were supposed to be heard in court, the Montgomery County District Attorney refused to go forward with the charges. The DA also refused to let LTC Haas and his attorney bring their defense in front of the judge, because in the pre-trial meeting, the DA was shown clear cut evidence which included audio tapes proving that Alissa Owen had lied on numerous occasions. Not only was it proven that Alissa Owen lied to get the bogus order of protection, but she also lied to have LTC Haas falsely arrested; and all to try and gain an upper hand in her post divorce litigation (all of this information is public through the Montgomery County Tennessee Court system). Army general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey was quoted saying, "We're losing the confidence of the women who serve that we can solve this problem.... That's a crisis." Secretary Hagel "ordered the retraining and recertification of U.S. military personnel whose job it is to work to prevent sexual assault and assist the victims". In Congress, the "Military Justice Improvement Act" was announced. The act "would mean that trained military prosecutors, not commanding officers, would decide whether sexual assault cases should go to trial, according to a group of at least 16 U.S. senators and members of the House of Representatives behind the legislation. It also would mean commanders cannot set aside the conviction of anyone who has been found guilty of sexual assault or downgrade a conviction to a lesser offense", per Reuters. Senators Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY) and Susan Collins (R-ME) were amongst the sponsoring congress members and Senator Al Franken (D-MN) and others reportedly joined as cosponsors. Co-sponsor Representative Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ-9), who once worked as a rape crisis counselor, said, "It is clear that something is not working."
On June 26, 2013 Rep. Dina Titus (D, NV-1) introduced into the United States House of Representatives the bill To amend title 38, United States Code, to provide veterans with counseling and treatment for sexual trauma that occurred during inactive duty training (H.R. 2527; 113th Congress). The bill would extend a VA program of counseling and care and services for veterans for military sexual trauma that occurred during active duty or active duty for training to include veterans who experienced such trauma during inactive duty training. The bill would alter current law, which allows access to such counseling only to active duty members of the military, so that members of the Reserves and National Guard would be eligible. The Wounded Warrior Project strongly supported the bill, but pointed out a number of additional related challenges and problems that needed to be solved to improve the treatment of MST related conditions in veterans. The WWP did a study of its alumni and found that "almost half of the respondents indicated accessing care through VA for MST related conditions was 'Very difficult'. And of those who did not seek VA care, 41% did not know they were eligible for such care." The WWP also testified that in addition to expanding access to MST care, the VA needed to improve care itself, because veterans report "inadequate screening, providers who were either insensitive or lacked needed expertise, and facilities ill-equipped to appropriately care for MST survivors."
This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Department of Defense document "Report of the Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment & Violence at the Military Service Academies" (retrieved on 10 March 2011).