Each year, the Department of Defense releases an annual report on sexual assault in the military. The 2018 report shows a shocking statistic: both men and women in the military reported a 38% increase in instances of “unwanted sexual contact.” In 2018, the report revealed there were 20,500 of these instances. Though only 20% of service members are women, women made up over 60% of assault victims. According to the report, within the least year, one of every 16 women in the military was groped, raped, or sexually assaulted. Nearly 25% of women seeking medical care from Veterans Affairs report having at least one sexual assault experience during their service. Women who are younger and at lower military ranks are at the greatest risk.
Though rates of reported sexual assaults increased in all branches, rates were twice as high in the Marines as in other services. The Marines has fewer women members than the Army or Air Force, but one in ten women in the Marines reported being sexual assault victims. The Navy had the highest rate of sexual assault on men. Across all branches, one in 100 men reported being assaulted.
Over the past decade, the government has spent $200 million trying to address this problem, including resources for active duty sexual assault survivors. The Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program provides support for survivors through advocacy, medical care, and counseling. Once survivors are no longer active members of the military, they are eligible for free medical care related to their “military sexual trauma.” It is sufficient that the service member says a sexual assault occurred, a report or service-connected disability request is not required. Military sexual trauma survivors can also get supportive services for housing, therapy, and employment counseling. The Department of Defense has also allocated resource to education and prevention efforts for active members. However, the significant increase in assaults shows that the current prevention efforts and victim resources are not enough.
Perhaps even more concerning is the decreased reporting rate. In 2016, 32% of assaults were reported, compared to only 30% in 2018. This indicates that troops lack confidence in the military process for reporting and punishing assaults. When a sexual assault occurs, the victim may make a “restricted report,” which allows the victim to receive counseling and medical care without triggering an official investigation. When an “unrestricted report” is made, the victim’s statements are passed on to law enforcement and an official investigation begins.
Once reported, few sexual assault cases are carried forward to prosecution. Advocates for military victims estimate that only 300 cases of the 6,000 reported were prosecuted. Cases that are not prosecuted through the military justice system may still receive some kind of disciplinary action. The Pentagon report found that in 2018, 65% of assailants received “disciplinary action.” However, this action is often carried out at the discretion of commanding officers within the military and is not overseen by the justice system. The wide discretion given to commanding officers means punishments vary greatly or may never occur. Some lawmakers say this leads to victim distrust in the system and makes it less likely victims will come forward.
If you or someone you know is a survivor of military sexual assault and you’d like to learn more, contact Koller Trial Law.