Reports of sexual assault among members of the armed services have jumped 50%, according to an annual Pentagon report released Thursday.
Approximately 5,000 sexual assaults were reported during the 2013 fiscal year, compared to 3,374 in fiscal year 2012 according to the report. The numbers were consistent with figures released in December.
The Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office releases figures on sexual assault reports, investigations, prosecutions and penalties every year. Last year’s report found that of 3,374 reports of sexual assault, only 302 went to trial.
The 2012 numbers, and the results of a bi-annual survey that estimated there were 26,000 instances of unwanted sexual contact that year, led to widespread fury and calls to overhaul the way the military deals with sexual assault.
Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., led efforts in the Senate to make changes, which Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., worked on in the House. The Senate blocked Gillibrand's bill in March. Gillibrand has promised to renew her efforts to remove serious crimes like sexual assault from the military chain of command if current efforts prove ineffective.
While the increase in reports could mean that more people feel comfortable coming forward after a year of close attention to sexual assault in the ranks, the disintegration of several recent high profile sexual assault cases suggests that more reports won’t mean more convictions. A judge found a former Naval Academy football player not guilty of rape after a court martial that was criticized as unfairly influenced by attorneys for the defendant and the victim. Brig Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair received a fine and was able to remain in the Army after reaching a plea deal in his court martial for sexually assaulting and threatening a junior officer. He may still be allowed to collect his full pension upon retirement.
More recently, allegations that high-ranking military officials have mishandled reports of sexual assault have cast doubt on the Defense Department’s claims that it should remain in charge of investigating and prosecuting cases. The commander of Army forces in Japan was suspended from his post when allegations surfaced that he ignored sexual assault claims; he was recently disciplined. Just last week, the Navy announced it was investigating the former commanding officer of the Blue Angels for allowing a hostile work environment.
Many of the changes to Pentagon policy on sexual assault that passed in last year’s defense authorization bill are in the process of going into effect. President Obama has ordered a comprehensive review of Defense Department sexual assault policy, due to be completed by Dec. 1. Earlier this month, the Pentagon announced it would conduct a full-scale review of the entire military justice system.