Military coping with revelations of possible sexual misconduct

It's been the talk of Washington, D.C.: a United States Army Brigadier General has been accused of sexual misconduct and will soon face a court-martial. Preliminary hearings addressed allegations against the married general about conduct with five women, including a female captain who claimed she had a three-year relationship with him.

Army officials have not yet revealed the official charges. Charges could include inappropriate relationships with subordinates, forcible sodomy and violating orders, among others. Adultery, a crime under military law, may also be charged.

This case is the latest in a recent string of apparent misbehavior by high-ranking officers. Over the past few months, five former or current generals have been investigated or reprimanded for some type of alleged misconduct.

Military women at risk of rape by fellow soldiers

These high-profile military cases are in the public eye as attention is increasingly turning to sexual assault allegations in the armed forces. Reported sexual assaults have risen from 901 in 2002 to almost 3,000 in 2006, with the most recent full year tally at 3,192 for 2011.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, one in three women in the military has been sexually assaulted, a rate twice as high as for civilian women. The Huffington Post calculated that a female in the armed services is almost 180 times more likely to be a sexual assault victim than to die in combat in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Most of the military victims of sexual assault are women under age 25, and most of those alleged to have committed sexual assault against someone in the military are higher-ranking males over age 35.

While some have called the problem of sexual assault against service members an epidemic, the official stance by the DOD is that the numbers represent an increase in reporting, not necessarily more actual incidents.

Action by the military

At Lackland Air Force Base, 43 women recently alleged they had been sexually assaulted. Partly in response to these complaints, in October 2012, the Secretary of Defense ordered a broad review of initial training in the Air Force and all other branches of the armed forces. All aspects of training will be scrutinized, including the number of female instructors and how direct supervisors of trainees are chosen.

Prosecution for sexual assault charges in the military is handled under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Under the UCMJ, the initial report is reviewed by the accused person's commander, who decides whether there is enough evidence to warrant action. The Secretary of Defense has stated that commanders will now have to report allegations of sexual assault to a higher authority.

The military has commonly declined to use courts-martial for sexual assault allegations, but rather dealt with them through measures like fines and rank reductions. Over the past five years, though, the DOD has initiated more court- martial charges in instances of alleged sexual assault.

The proportion of reports that make it through a court-martial remains scant, however. Of the nearly 3,200 incidents of assault reported in 2011, only 240 had come to trial by the end of the fiscal year. Less than six percent of those accused of sexual assault were convicted by court martial.

When someone in the armed services is accused of criminal behavior of any kind, whether or not a court-martial is ordered, it is advisable to obtain the advocacy of an attorney experienced in military law. An attorney who is skilled in defending charges under the UCMJ may be able to disprove false charges and minimize penalties.