Number of Military Sexual Assaults Are Way Up

A report released this week by the Department of Defense shows the estimated number of sexual assaults in the military increased from  19,300 to 26,000 from the 2010 to the 2012 fiscal year—a 34.7 percent increase.

The number of reported assaults also went up in that time period, but only by 5.7 percent. And still only a small portion of the total estimated assaults were reported—just 13 percent.

The new report also includes a strategic plan by Secretary of State Chuck Hagel to better deal with this epidemic problem. It incorporates such things as “enhancing commander accountability,” “assessing military justice systems” and ensuring Department of Defense “facilities promote an environment of dignity and respect and are free from materials that create a degrading or offensive work environment …”

We’ve been hearing plans similar to this for years, but the numbers show that sexual assault in the military is still a problem that gets worse every year.

In a news conference Tuesday, officials stressed that the U.S. military will not tolerate sexual assault, and emphasized the importance of taking assault reports seriously. President Obama encouraged survivors of sexual assault to report the crimes, saying, “I want them to hear directly from their commander in chief that I’ve got their backs.” He added:

We find out somebody’s engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable; prosecuted, stripped out of their positions, court martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period. It’s not acceptable.

However, rhetoric isn’t proving sufficient. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) says the steps being taken are “not good enough,” pointing to last weekend’s arrest of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, who had been the leader of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response branch, over an allegation that he sexually assaulted a woman. Gillibrand says:

If the man in charge for the Air Force in preventing sexual assault is being alleged to have committed a sexual assault this weekend, obviously there’s a failing in training and understanding of what sexual assault is …

So what will finally convince military officials to take the issue of sexual assault seriously? In the upcoming Spring 2013 issue of Ms., writer Molly M. Ginty considers whether a “tipping point” has been reached, especially since the ban that officially kept military women out of direct combat has been lifted. She quotes Nancy Duff Campbell, copresident of the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C. and a member of the U.S. Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services:

Now full comrades in arms, women can no longer be seen as second-class soldiers and fair game for sexual predators.

Photo of Army combat helmets by Flickr user The U.S. Army under Creative Commons 2.0


Ponta Abadi, a graduate of the University of Oregon, is a former Ms. intern. Follow her on Twitter.