1 in 5 Women in the Air Force Report Being Sexually Assaulted

The Christian Science Monitor broke news today that a not-yet-released Air Force survey found that 1 in 5 women say they have been sexually assaulted since joining the force.

The survey, conducted by Gallup, interviewed 18,834 men and women in the Air Force between July and August 2010. Nineteen percent of women reported having been assaulted–of those, 58 percent say that they had been raped and 20 percent sodomized, which the military defines as nonconsensual oral or anal sex. The Christian Science Monitor explains:

While the data suggest the sexual-assault rate in the Air Force is roughly equal to what it is in the broader civilian population, the survey–obtained exclusively by the Monitor–points to unique challenges presented by the culture of the service. The vast majority of crimes are committed by male airmen on female airmen [sic], and nearly half of rape victims said they did not report the crime because they “did not want to cause trouble in their unit.”

“Despite having more women than any other branch of service, it’s clear that the Air Force, like the rest of the military, is in over its head when it comes to reducing this threat to our service members,” says Anu Bhagwati, former Marine Corps Captain and Executive Director of Service Women’s Action Network. “Senior military leadership has failed to protect survivors, punish perpetrators or hold commanders accountable for failing to enforce sexual assault policy.”

Also, released today was the FY 2010 “Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military” [PDF] by the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO). The report shines light on the 3,158 incidents of sexual assault military-wide that were officially documented by service branches, of which 585 were specifically in the Air Force. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely these numbers reveal the depth of the problem–the report’s authors admit that an estimated 86 percent of sexual assaults against members of the armed forces go unreported.

This is not the first time sexual assault in the military has been a problem–as Ms. reported in the Spring 2010 issue, 17 veteran and active-duty service members who were raped, sexually assaulted or harassed have filed a class-action lawsuit against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and current Secretary Robert Gates for failing to prevent, investigate and prosecute the crimes.

The Service Women’s Action Network is also lobbying for rights and remedies for military sexual assault survivors. Here’s a Ms. Foundation video with footage from their November rally, including voiceover from victims and their families:


Photo of Air Force servicewomen by Flickr user expertinfantry under Creative Commons.