Inside Story Americas

US military: Sexual assaults on the rise

Why are so many in the US military having to endure the misery of sexual assault?

Last Modified: 11 May 2013 08:20
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According to the results of an anonymous survey released this week, 26,000 members of the military were sexually assaulted last year. 

That is a significantly higher number than the official figures which show there were more than 3,000 assaults last year, a rise of 6 percent since 2012.

According to Pentagon documents, the key conclusion of the report is that "sexual assault is a persistent problem in the military and remains vastly underreported."

I was only 18 years old ... I joined the army when I was 17, and at the time of my rape, I was only in the military for six months .... when I reported it [she] responded to me ... negatively and didn’t believe anything I was saying ... 

Kate  Waber, a former US military soldier 

The report says that of the 1.4 million active duty personnel, 6.1 percent of active duty women - or 12,100 - say they experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012, a sharp increase over the 8,600 who said that in 2010.

For men, the number increased from 10,700 to 13,900. A majority of the offenders were military members or Defense Department civilians or contractors, the report said.

Lawmakers are becoming increasingly concerned about how the military court system deals with sexual crime. In the criminal justice system for civilians, you have separate groups in charge of investigation, prosecution and sentencing.

But in the US military - all three roles are under the control of the officer commanding the unit in which the offender and the victim work. If the accused chooses to be tried by a military panel, panel members are selected by the commander and not randomly chosen as in the civilian system.

If the accused is found guilty, the commander has to approve both the findings and the sentence. In this role, the commander can set aside the verdict, while in Canada, the UK and Australia, authority over criminal cases has been transferred from the commanding officer to an independent prosecutor.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has called on the military to remove the power to overturn court-martial decisions from commanders. Democratic Senator Kristen Gillibrand says she will introduce such a bill next week.

Her bill also seeks to allow victims of serious offenses such as sexual assault to report directly to military prosecutors, who will determine whether court action is appropriate. This avoids reporting to a commander who knows both the victim and the offender.

So why are so many people who sign up to serve their country in the US military having to endure the misery of sexual assault? And what are the possible solutions for this recurrent problem? 

Inside Story Americas, with presenter Kimberly Halkett, discusses with guests: Morris Davis, a former US military lawyer who served as chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay and is now a professor of law at Howard University; and Kate Weber, a former US military soldier who was raped by a senior officer while stationed in Germany in 1993.

"This has been a problem that has gone on for too long .... and here we are still confronting the same issues over and over … and it seems it is a pattern that just keeps repeating, it gets attention when it boils up and it becomes a problem, and then it kind of fades away, and we repeat this cycle over and over so we really got to get a grip on this issue and get it fixed, so that there is not another Kate, another 18-year-old in the same situation again."

- Morris Davis, a former US military lawyer who served as chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay


Al Jazeera
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