Reports of sexual assaults in the military rise 46 percent

BY News Desk  November 7, 2013 at 3:25 PM EDT

With sexual assaults in the military on the rise, Congress and Defense Department officials debate what should be done to prosecute perpetrators and prevent assaults from happening. Video by PBS NewsHour.

Updated 5:00 p.m. ET | Sen. Kristen Gillibrand responded to the Defense Department’s report with the following statement to the PBS NewsHour: “Without additional data on the total number of estimated assaults during this period, or the number of cases prosecuted by commanders, it is impossible to make any conclusions. That said, increased reporting is a good thing, but we need increased reporting, lower incident rates, and increased accountability after someone reports. That’s why we must create an independent military justice system so that when more servicemembers do report they will have a fair shot at justice.”

WASHINGTON — Sexual assault complaints in the military rose 46 percent in the last fiscal year, the Pentagon said Thursday.

Defense Department officials said there were 3,553 reports of sexual assault from October 2012 through June 2013, a nearly 50 percent increase over the same time frame a year earlier.

While it’s unclear whether this was an increase in assaults, an increase in reporting them or both, the Defense Department said the spike reflected service members’ willingness to come forward.

“We assess this increase in reports as consistent with a growing level of confidence in our response system,” Defense Department spokewoman Lt. Col. Cathy Wilkinson told the NewsHour. But one advocate thinks the increased number of reporting of sexual assault is due to the growing attention on the problem of sexual assault in the military.

“There is very little doubt that what we are doing as a movement has increased reporting,” Anu Bhagwati the Executive Director of Service Women’s Action Network told the NewsHour.

“I think there is a huge wave of attention from the public, media, Congress, advocates and survivors that are speaking out that you are not alone anymore. That there are advocates on the outside of the military that will take your case.”

The Pentagon’s new statistics come weeks before proposals that address how to curb sexual assault in the military are expected to reach the Senate floor for debate. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has backed a plan that calls for reform, but also keeps the adjudication of sexual assault cases within the chain of command, while Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has advocated to remove that power from commanders.