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DOD-commissioned report shows significant drop in sexual assault

According to a recently released study by the RAND Corporation, longstanding efforts by federal lawmakers to combat the incidence of sex crimes within the ranks of the military appear to be working as the number of reported sexual assaults among personnel has dropped considerably over the last two years.

The study, sponsored by the Department of Defense, determined the following:

  • Roughly 18,900 personnel in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines reported that they were victimized by "unwanted sexual contact" (defined by the DOD to include anything from unwelcome touching to sexual assault) in 2014 versus close to 26,000 in 2012, a decline of nearly 27 percent.
  • 6,131 reports documenting unwanted sexual contact were reported to the Pentagon in 2014, an 11 percent increase from 2013 and a 70 percent increase from 2012.

"One reason the military is among the most highly respected institutions in the country is that we are a learning organization," said Defense Secretary Ashton Carter of the RAND study.

The issue of unwanted sexual contact within the ranks has long been on the radar of Congress, who voted just last year to pass a groundbreaking bill sponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) that introduced fundamental changes to the military justice system.

Indeed, the law criminalizes retaliation against military personnel who report sex crimes, enables victims to have their cases managed by civilian officials if certain circumstances are present, prohibits commanders from stepping in to reverse jury verdicts in sex crime cases and, perhaps most significantly, terminates the military's statute of limitations for rape cases.

It will be interesting to see if these figures continue on their current trajectory over the next few years and whether the military -- or Congress for that matter -- institutes any further policy changes regarding the investigation and prosecution of sex crimes.

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