Pentagon: Sexual assault reports level in 2015

Pentagon: Sexual assault reports level in 2015
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Sexual assault reports in the military in 2015 were about even with the previous year, according to a Pentagon report released Thursday.

But Pentagon officials say the number of reports, which is still high, shows a need for more work and that reporting is important to helping the victims.

“Our efforts are having an impact, but there are still many hurdles to overcome,” Army Maj. Gen. Camille Nichols, director of the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said in a written statement. “Reporting the crime is essential for our ability to bring care and advocacy to survivors, and hold offenders appropriately accountable.”

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Overall, the Pentagon received 6,083 reports of sexual assault for allegations involving service members, according to the report. In 2014, the Pentagon got 6,131 reports.

Most of the reports, 4,584, were unrestricted reports, which means the chain of command was notified and an investigation was triggered.

From those, 543 people went to trial and 413 were convicted.

Reasons that cases didn’t get prosecuted included because they were outside the Pentagon’s jurisdiction, there was insufficient evidence, victims didn’t want to participate in the military justice action or the statute of limitations expired, according to the report.

The remaining total reports, 1,499, were restricted, meaning the victims could get medical and mental health treatment without telling their chain of command.

For the first time, the Pentagon’s report also looked at the satisfaction victims had with the military justice process.

About three-quarters of survey respondents said they felt the military justice process was difficult to maneuver, according to the report. Still, 77 percent said they would encourage another survivor to make a report.

The report also lowers the estimated percent of victims who have faced retaliation for reporting sexual assault. The Pentagon now estimates 38 percent have faced retaliation, down from 57 percent.

Critics of the Pentagon’s handling of sexual assault cases slammed that assessment.

“Despite claims of progress, the findings of this report show that after years of empty promises from the Department of Defense to solve the problem, rates of sexual assault, reporting and retaliation have not improved,” retired Col. Don Christensen, president of Protect Our Defenders, said in written statement. The organization recently accused the Pentagon of providing misleading information to Congress on sexual assaults. “This is an insult to the tens of thousands of sexual assault survivors whose lives and careers have been destroyed by the repercussions they faced for simply reporting their assault.”

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the report shows the Pentagon’s commitment to combating sexual assault.

“It is a difficult challenge for the military and other institutions in this country, but it is one under the secretary's leadership we're determined to take on,” he said. “And I would note that other institutions from higher education and also other federal agencies, even the United Nations, have looked to the Department of Defense's programs as potential models for their own efforts.”