Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Military's Big Jump in Sexual Assault Reports: Outrage or Sign of Progress?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Military's Big Jump in Sexual Assault Reports: Outrage or Sign of Progress?

Article excerpt

Reports of sexual assault and rape are up 50 percent across the US military, according to a Pentagon report released Thursday - an increase that top defense officials acknowledge is "unprecedented."

From 2012 to 2013, total reports jumped to more than 5,000, up from 3,400.

The news drew criticism from advocates for victims, who warn that the Pentagon report "highlights the severity of the military's sexual assault epidemic."

In response, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel issued several new initiatives Thursday, including some designed to reach out to men, who make up half of all victims of sexual assault in the military.

"We have to fight the cultural stigmas that discourage reporting and be clear that sexual assault does not occur because a victim is weak, but rather because an offender disregards our values and the law," Secretary Hagel said. "Input from male victims will be critical in developing these methods and will be closely monitored so we can make them more effective."

The figures include reported sexual assaults made by service members, whether the alleged perpetrators are in the military or are civilians.

Pentagon officials will also launch a review of institutional alcohol policies, "including the risk that alcohol is used as a weapon against victims in a predatory way," Mr. Hagel added, noting that perpetrators may incapacitate victims by encouraging them to drink. Drinking by victims, especially those who are under age, may also be a tool attackers use to discredit them later, he said.

This was not enough to assuage victims' advocates. "The persistent stream of reports suggests the military is either unwilling or incapable of solving this crisis, and further underscores the need for strong action from our elected leaders," says Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for troops who have been sexually assaulted. …

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