DoD claims progress in mission to curb sexual assault in the military

Sexual assault in the military is ongoing. But the Pentagon says it's making progress through courts-martial, non-judicial remedies and prevention.

The prevalence of sexual assault in the U.S. military is an issue getting a great deal of media attention. Some say such crimes are so common within the ranks that the issue has reached epidemic proportions. Attention has only been heightened in recent years by high profile cases in which high ranking officers, including one brigadier general, have faced sexual assault charges and courts-martial.

The Department of Defense is not oblivious to the reality of the situation. Based on reaction from the public and scrutiny from Congress, it has started to issue an annual reports on the subject, the latest of which came out a couple of months ago.

In that report, the DoD estimated that in Fiscal Year 2012, which ended Sept. 30 of that year, some 26,000 active duty members had been victim of some form of unwanted sexual contact during the previous 12 months. That estimate was based on a survey of personnel.

But the number of cases of alleged assault actually reported for that fiscal year was only 3,374. In fiscal 2013, the number of sexual assaults reported reached 5,061 -- representing a 50 percent increase. And there is no corresponding increase in the estimate of possible assaults offered because no survey of personnel was conducted.

DoD insists it's committed to assault prevention

The report does acknowledge that the figures for fiscal 2013 amount to an "unprecedented increase." But it says it doesn't think that it means there are more assaults occurring. Rather, the Pentagon's take is that the increase is due to an increased level of confidence among rank and file service members in how the department is responding to the crisis.

The DoD insists that instances of sexual assault are not tolerated, condoned or ignored. Indeed, in fiscal 2013, it noted a slight improvement in its record of dealing with reported cases. Of the 5,061 cases reported, more than 3,700 were listed as unrestricted. That means the victims chose to pursue full and formal investigations.

Of 3,234 cases that were closed for that year, the DoD says it had jurisdiction over about 2,100 of them. Of those, it says 1,569 were deemed to have sufficient evidence to warrant pursuing some sort of action and action was brought against 1,187 suspects.

Seventy-one-percent of those subjects faced charges and court-martial; 18 percent received non-judicial punishment for an Article 15 violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice; and 12 percent ended with some form of adverse administrative action or in discharge.

The report predicts that further improvements in reducing sexual assaults in the military will come as other prevention provisions enacted in fiscal 2013, such as a special victims' advocacy program, take root.

UCMJ offers officials a range of actions

What this report reflects is the range of possible actions under the UCMJ that a service member could face if charges of sexual assault are brought against him or her. In some instances it could be a court-martial. In others it could be something less.

A finding of guilt under Article 15 might be preferred. Punishment meted out under this scenario does not include a sentence to confinement. There is no record of a court-martial conviction and service can continue. But in most cases, court-martial is likely.

If a service member does wind up facing legal difficulties due to an allegation of sexual assault, it should be remembered that they are entitled to certain rights that include legal representation. For the sake of one's future, the help of an attorney with experience in military and civilian justice is always recommended.

Keywords: courts-martial, sexual assault