Gillibrand report finds 'alarming rates' of military sexual assault

Gillibrand report finds 'alarming rates' of military sexual assault
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Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Gabbard, Steyer inch toward making third Democratic debate Gillibrand unveils mental health plan MORE (D-N.Y.) on Monday said a new report that finds "alarming rates" of military sexual assaults shows the problem might be much worse than the Pentagon is reporting.

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A review of 107 case files she obtained from the Pentagon shows 53 percent of victims are civilians or military spouses — two groups not routinely counted in Department of Defense surveys, Gillibrand said. 

"What we’ve found are alarming rates of assault among two survivor groups not routinely counted in DOD surveys, survivors declining to move forward with their cases and very low conviction rates," she said in a statement. 

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Gillibrand, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, said the data raise new questions about how big the problem is within the military, noting that the Pentagon's estimate for 2014 includes 20,000 cases of sexual assault and unwanted sexual contact. 

The data showed that civilians filed reports against service members in 32 percent of the 107 cases reviewed, while military spouses filed reports in 21 percent of the cases.  

"Given that these survivor groups are overlooked in prevalence survey data, the total survivor population may be far larger than the most recent estimated of 20,000 cases of sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact in FY 2014," the statement said. 

Gillibrand is the ranking member of the Armed Services Personnel subcommittee, which is drafting its portion of the 2016 defense policy bill. The annual bill has, in recent years, become a vehicle for including reforms to the Pentagon's military justice system and its handling of sexual assault. 

Gillibrand's report comes days after the Pentagon released a report on sexual assault cases in 2014. That research showed the estimate of those experiencing such assault dropped by 27 percent, even as those reporting cases rose by 11 percent. 

Pentagon officials said the rise was attributed to troops having more confidence in the military justice system, in which commanders have authority of cases within their own units. 

"Even with the much-lauded reforms, the system remains plagued with distrust and simply does not provide the fair and just process that survivors deserve," said Gillibrand, who has championed reform of the way the Pentagon deals with sexual assault within its ranks. 

Fellow Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said the report showed the prevalence of military sexual assault "could be twice as much as the Pentagon estimates." 

"The Gillibrand report shows that the epidemic of sexual assault in the military is far worse than previously reported," she said in a statement. "It is clear that we need to put independent prosecutors in charge of this broken process." 

Gillibrand's report reflects an analysis of 107 cases from 2013 from the Army’s Fort Hood in Texas, Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, the Marine Corps’s Base Camp Pendleton in California and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, the statement said.

The statement said Gillibrand originally asked for the files of sexual assault cases between 2009 through 2013 at the largest bases within each service branch, and the Pentagon "provided only a fraction of the information originally sought."  

“We requested this data to understand what happens when reports are filed, how they are investigated and move forward within the military justice system and needless to say, the more we learn, the worse the problem gets,” she said.

-- Updated 12:26 a.m.

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