THE PENTAGON – Sexual assault reporting in the military increased during the past year while the number of suspected incidents is declining, according to a new Pentagon report.
During Fiscal Year 2017 the Department of Defense received 6,769 reports of sexual assault, a 10 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office annual report.
“This year’s report tells us more service members than ever before are reporting sexual assault and getting the help they need. We view this willingness to report as the result of a decade-long effort to improve victim support, criminal investigation, and military justice,” Rear Adm. Ann Burkhardt, the director of the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Office, said during a media briefing.
According to the report, each service branch recording an increase in sexual assault reporting during FY 2017.
- The Navy had 1,585 reports filed, an increase of 9.3 percent from 2016.
- The Marine Corps had 998 reports filed, an increase of 14.7 percent from 2016.
- The Army had 2,706 reports filed, an increase of 8.4 percent from 2016.
- The Air Force had 1,480 reports filed, an increase of 9.2 percent from 2016.
Along with more service members reporting sexual assault, nearly a quarter of restricted sexual assault reports were converted into unrestricted reports. Unrestricted reports are transferred to investigators who can pursue cases through the judicial system or recommend other forms of punishment if applicable. Restricted reports remain confidential. Victims are provided various forms of medical care and access to a victim advocate, but an investigation is not opened.
“In the early years of the sexual assault prevention response program, that percentage was only 12 to 15 percent,” Nathan Galbreath, the deputy director of the SAPR Office, told reporters.
Converting restricted reports to unrestricted reports is significant, Galbreath said, because this means the military has a greater chance of holding people accountable for their actions, and it suggests there’s a growing faith in the system.
While the number of reports increased, the percentage of cases going to court-martial has decreased during the past few years. In FY 2017, 54 percent of cases were sent to courts-martial. In FY 2013, 71 percent of cases were sent to court-martial, according to the report.
Meanwhile, the number of cases adjudicated by commanders, through either nonjudicial punishment or other administrative actions and discharges from the service, increased during this time period, according to the report.
Pentagon officials suspect there are several reasons why the percentage of cases going to courts-martial is declining, but the percentage of commanders meting out other forms of punishment increased. Since 2012, case law has changed because of changes made to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Galbreath said.
What has happened since then, Galbreath said, is some types of cases now require more evidence to move forward in a court-martial. Commanders, though, are able to adjudicate some of these cases, holding people accountable for their actions, without moving a case through the court-martial process.
In 2018, the SAPR office plans to continue encouraging victims to report their assault and concentrate on encouraging more men to report sexual assault.
“Sexual assault is [still] an underreported crime,” Galbreath said.
“We know it happens way more than is reported to authorities.”