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Strong focus continues on military sexual assault reporting

So, reports of alleged sexual assaults in the U.S. Army have recently skyrocketed in the European theater, and that’s a positive development?

Readers of this blog might reasonably be more than just a bit confused by any such assertion, but there it stands.

It’s “a good-news story,” says one high-ranking Army officer.

And what that officer says carries considerable weight. Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr. heads the U.S. Army Europe command, and he is openly enthusiastic over numbers indicating an upsurge in sexual assault reports involving servicemembers.

Understanding that enthusiasm requires an appreciation of recent military history focusing upon sexually related crime within the ranks.

There has been a surge -- steadily growing and ever-louder -- of criticism in recent years that military sex crimes are underreported, and for myriad reasons. Some persons say that they have been reluctant to report crime out of a lack of confidence that military officials would support them and punish wrongdoers. There has been criticism of commanders on grounds that they have purposefully suppressed adverse information and derailed investigations that should have gone forward.

And thus senior officers and officials are now lauding statistics showing an uptick in reporting. They say that the numbers reflect a growing confidence in the ranks that reports will be seriously considered, with strong action when warranted.

Greater accuracy surrounding reporting and investigations is obviously a good thing. Victims of crime must be taken seriously. Punishing perpetrators of crime induces systemic confidence and can have a deterrent effect that enhances the safety of military members in general.

Such salutary developments necessarily come with a caveat, though, namely this: When authorities are responding with clear enthusiasm to increased reports of alleged criminal activity, that support could in itself be seen as encouraging reports of criminal conduct.

In such an atmosphere, it is just as imperative to safeguard the legal rights of accused parties as it is to promote alleged victims’ rights. That is always the case, of course, but arguably even more so when upticks in crime reports are being lauded by senior officials.

Military law is no different from civilian law in that persons accused of crime must be adjudged innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Source: Stars and Stripes, "Army: It's good news that sexual assault reports are up," Matt Millham, Sept. 25, 2014

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