Its members are experts at amphibious and expeditionary warfare, but despite its best efforts the United States Marine Corps just can't seem to end sexual assaults within its ranks.
A 27-page document released by the US Marine Corps this week indicated that there were 333 cases of sexual assault within that branch of the U.S. Armed Forces in 2011. A total of 346 victims were involved in those incidents.
The victims know their offenders but are often times too scared to come forward because they fear not being believed, they are ashamed, or they are afraid of retaliation.
Spread over 246 square miles of territory, Camp Lejeune is the largest U.S. Marine Corps base on the east coast. The North Carolina training facility also has the highest number of victims of sexual assault, 70. Camp Pendleton on the west coast is second with 64 victims, according to the report.
We have been ineffective at addressing and eliminating sexual assault within our ranks, the report read. In far too many cases across the Marine Corps, poor command climates due to unengaged leadership are eroding the trust necessary for victims to safely report these crimes.
The Marine Corps. said research shows that sexual assault is under-reported. But that could change, as a result of new procedures the Corps is implementing.
Along with listing the number of reported sexual assaults in that service branch, the Marine Corps has also initiated a plan to hold offenders and commanders accountable for these incidents. That plan was signed by Commandant Gen. James Amos and it will be carried out in three phases in order to foster an environment conducive to reporting such incidents, engage the leadership, and strongly deter such incidents of assaults.
It's a zero-tolerance approach to the incidents, which have, at times, been dismissed as false or have focusd on the victim's behavior or reputation, instead of looking at the conduct of the offender.
Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) a sexual assault is a criminal act. It includes intentional sexual contact by force, threats, intimidation, or abuse of authority or when a victim does not or cannot give his or her consent.
Alcohol use by both the victim and the offender often fosters circumstances under which sexual assault is more likely to happen.
Alcohol is often the 'weapon of choice' of most offenders, the report read, and that offenders often try to seek out a vulnerable target and the opportunity to act.
In those cases, alcohol is often used to make a victim more vulnerable to assault, the report said.
Amos said sexual assault is an ugly mark on the U.S. Marines' proud reputation.
It goes against everything we claim to be as United States Marines ... it is a crime, Amos said in a letter. This crime is not only completely incompatible with our core values of honor, courage and commitment, it is an affront to the basic American principles we so bravely defend.
Read the full report.