Military Rape Report Card: Still Failing

shutterstock_177220931The latest annual study on military sexual assault from the Department of Defense (DOD) shows that reports of such assault rose 8 percent since 2013. Perhaps even more striking, however, is that the incidence of retribution against those who report sex crimes is a stunning 62 percent. That means service members who came forward with allegations experienced social, professional or administrative retaliation.

“The new report makes it crystal clear that the much-needed change has not occurred,” says Susan Burke, an attorney who represents military sexual assault survivors. “Retaliation remains rampant.”

Despite the increase in reported assaults, the study insists that the actual incidence of sexual assault—including both reported and unreported crimes—has declined, from 6.1 percent of service members experiencing assault in 2012 to 4.3 percent in 2014. Those numbers are based on data from a 2012 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey and the 2014 RAND Military Workplace Study, but Burke calls it “merely speculation.”

Critics say that the way sex crimes are handled in the military, despite lots of talk, still doesn’t work.

Earlier this week, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)  renewed a push to remove sexual assault investigations from the military chain of command. Her proposal, an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, would require independently trained military lawyers—rather than military commanders—to decide whether or not to prosecute those accused. She explained:

It’s Congress’ responsibility to act as if the brave survivors of sexual assault are our sons, our daughters, our husbands and our lives who are being betrayed by the greatest military on earth. The military has not been able to demonstrate that they have made a difference and they need to be held to the scrutiny and that standard this year. The DOD has failed on this issue for 20 years and the scandals of the last 12 months show that they still don’t get it.

Burke agrees, saying, “We need to fix this broken judicial system—our service members should not be relegated to second-class courts.”

Former Air Force Chief Prosecutor Colonel Don Christensen, who successfully prosecuted military sex offenders before being reassigned to another role and eventually retiring from the service, supports Gillibrand’s efforts, saying the current military justice system is “set up for failure.” In an interview earlier this week, he explained why he thinks things must change:

One of the dirty little secrets of military justice is what happens in that courtroom. When you have the prosecution on one side of the courtroom and the defense on the other side, and a victim is sitting on the witness stand telling the jury what happened, and she looks out over that courtroom, she looks behind her rapist and she’s going to see her commander sitting behind her rapist. She’s going to see her first sergeant sitting behind her rapist. She’s going to see her squadron leader sitting behind her rapist. That’s what we have to overcome.

The Pentagon opposes these efforts and says it will continue to do so.

The DOD announced four new initiatives to combat assault and retaliation this week, including training and prevention programs. However the language describing the programs is murky, at best, and lacks much in the way of concrete steps toward curbing this crisis.

As Gillibrand put it, “There is no other mission in the world for our military where this much failure would be allowed.”

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Image via Shutterstock



Stephanie Hallett is research editor at Ms. Find her on Twitter @stephhallett.


  1. Sue Nugent says:

    I would also like to comment on the aging women–kicked out, removed, and/or otherwise separated. As the numbers reporting continue to grow we are left behind. At 53 years old when I got out (forced out) there was no name for what had happened– after Military Sexual Trauma MST-PTSD was identified as a diagnosis and the Veterans Admin. started accepting victims. The process was so broken–re victimizing those who tried and actually those who initially received treatment became drug induced non-functioning individuals.
    People like myself, who watched as these women endured all kinds of unproven treatments–watched as they struggled with denials of treatment, stayed away.
    Being removed from your career and basically abandoned many including myself have had life long problems. Issues at first I could not explain– I would like to see an option for women to get medical/psychological help outside the system. As I could never trust the very people who caused so much damage to become my caretaker. I am not alone in my inability to even get to the point of applying for services of any kind– let alone the extra income the VA might pay me in a disability settlement. I went in a young woman just barely 18 years old–and 6 years later I was forced out pregnant. I raised a child with no assistance in a time the fact I was a lesbian meant it was possible to take my child from me–this kept me in the shadows of life. I have struggled to make sense of it -learning not to blame myself-but what was worse realizing (as technology became available) through social media I was not unique ~~ not even close.
    I am sorry for the future generations who have suffered the same fate–but as I age I sure could use help.

  2. Justice day says:

    What they fail to talk about and cover is the civilians who are raped by the U.S. military!

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