Pentagon failed to keep its promise to protect US troops from sexual assault

A Pentagon survey released on September 1, 2022, found that reported sexual assault cases in the military increased by 13 percent in 2021.

Sexual assaults of active-duty U.S. military personnel are at their highest levels in the 15 years that Defense Department officials have been surveying uniformed servicemembers about these offenses.

The Pentagon has promised to take a preventive approach to sexual assault in the US military amid criticism that it has not done enough to address the problem.

In his first directive as defense secretary, Lloyd Austin gave his senior leaders two weeks to send him reports on sexual assault prevention programs in the military plus an assessment of what has worked and what hasn’t, in order to fulfill a commitment to immediately address the problem in the ranks.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order in January to respond to gender-based violence in the military, including making sexual harassment a specific offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Austin is the first defense secretary to support removing the prosecution of sexual assaults from the military’s chain of command.

Advocates and lawmakers have been calling for years for military commanders to be taken out of the decision-making process when it comes to prosecuting sexual assault cases, arguing that unit leaders are inclined to overlook the issue.

The disturbing update is likely to trigger further calls in Washington for new laws to address the problem.

Austin issued a department-wide call to action to redouble efforts to address the problem, including the most significant change to the military justice system in decades by readying the Offices of Special Trial Counsel to take over prosecutorial decisions.

He also met with nation’s highest-ranking military officer, General Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks, and the service secretaries and chiefs to get an update on the independent review commission’s 82 recommendations.

Reports of sexual assaults have steadily gone up since 2006, according to department reports, including a 13% jump in 2018 and a 3% increase in 2019.

The latest data is not encouraging but sexual assault and harassment in the US military was largely underreported and the Pentagon’s findings could indicate that elevated scrutiny is simply revealing more about the problem as fewer incidents are covered up.

“One sexual assault is one too many and the president has been clear about making sure we implement real change to rid our ranks of this crime,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who insisted that said ending sexual assault and harassment in the United States military remains a priority.

Based on the results of a new survey made public on September 1, 2022, the Pentagon estimates 35,875 active-duty personnel, both women and men, were sexually assaulted in fiscal 2021— meaning they were raped or groped, or victim of an attempt to commit one of those crimes.

By contrast, in fiscal 2018, the last time the survey was conducted, the number of reported victims was estimated to be 20,500.

The nearly 36,000 affected servicemembers comprised 19,300 women and 16,600 men, though women, on average, were more likely to be victims.

Of all servicemembers, 8.4 percent of women (roughly 1 in 12) and 1.5 percent of men said they had been assaulted or that someone had tried to assault them.

In 2018, the comparable percentages were 6.2 percent and 0.7 percent.

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