Posted: May 1, 2017 5:45 PM

Pentagon Report Shows ‘Indications of Progress’ in Combating Sexual Assault

By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Pentagon released the 2016 report on sexual assault in the military, which officials said showed “progress,” with the number of assaults down and the percentage of victims willing to report the crime up.

The number of assaults, based on surveys of service personnel, dropped from an estimated 9,600 for women in 2014, which is 4.9 percent of the female service members, to 8,600, which is 4.3 percent. For men, the numbers dropped from an estimated 10,600, or .9 percent to 6,300, or .6 percent, the report showed.

That meant a total drop from 20,300 to 14,900 over two years.

The number of assaults reported by the victims increased slightly, from 6,083 in 2015 to 6,172 last year.

“Overall, this report shows indications of progress,” said Elizabeth Van Winkle, the principle director for Force Resiliency and acting assistant defense secretary for Readiness. The estimated numbers of sexual assaults among active duty personnel “are at the lowest since we have seen since we began to survey on prevalence.

“We see the increase in rates of reporting an indicator of continued trust in our response and support system,” Van Winkle said.

But, “we do not confuse progress with success,” she added. “There remain a number of important challenges. There is no acceptable number of sexual assault.”

Rear Adm. Ann Burkhardt, the recently installed director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO), said the department’s policies have two aims: “To reduce the occurrences of sexual assault and to encourage those who are assaulted to report. … “The data we are releasing today suggest we are moving closer to those goals.”

But, she added, “there still are far too many suffering and too few getting the care they need.”

Both Van Winkle and Burkhardt emphasized the damage that sexual assault and sexual harassment inflict on the military force.

And Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said, “preventing sexual assault is a top priority for Secretary [James] Mattis and will continue to be a top priority for this department. We will not tolerate sexual assault, and we will continue to build a culture of respect and accountability.”

The report also showed an increase in the number of cases in which the victims’ commanders took punitive action against the offenders. The data showed commanders took disciplinary action in 64 percent of the reported offenses for which the military had jurisdiction over the alleged offenders, with 59 percent of the punitive actions resulting in courts martial.

Another 20 percent of the actionable reported cases were handled by non-judicial punishment, which is the lowest form of legal action under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, and the remainder resulting in adverse administrative action or discharges.

There have been strong protests from women’s activists and some members of Congress that sexual assault and harassment have persisted because unit commanders failed to punish the alleged offenders.

But the Defense Department has increased the education, and pressure, on unit commanders to act when there is sufficient evidence and legal authority to punish alleged offenders.

Nathan Galbreath, the deputy SAPRO director, said their data showed “zero cases” in which a commander failed to follow the advice of his or her staff judge advocate, or lawyer.

The past allegations of commanders’ failure to act resulted in attempts in Congress to remove unit commanders from authority to deal with sexual assault cases.

But the three officials said the department stands by its opposition to that. And Galbreath said a survey by an outside organization concluded there was no evidence that removing commanders’ authority would increase the rate of punitive actions.

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