The U.S. Department of Defense’s latest sexual-assault survey is unusually explicit and has reportedly offended some military members. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen are invited to fill out the survey, but some have complained about the graphically personal questions regarding sexual acts in this year’s survey, developed by the Rand Corp., according to the Associated Press.
The survey, conducted once every two years, reportedly begins with questions about sexual harassment and then asks about any unwanted sexual experiences or contact using very specific language about men’s and women’s body parts or other objects and kinds of contract or penetration. For example, one question states, “Before 9/18/2013, had anyone made you insert an object or body part into someone’s mouth, vagina or anus when you did not want to and did not consent?” Some questions are more explicit, according to the AP, which obtained the survey.
Some military members told the AP they were upset and taken aback by the questions, and some even said that they felt re-victimized by the survey’s blunt language. Pentagon officials reportedly confirmed that they've received various complaints. “We’ve had a number of complaints,” said Jill Loftus, director of the Navy’s sexual assault prevention program. “I’ve heard second- and third-hand that there are a number of women, officers and enlisted, who have gotten to the point where they’ve read the questions and they’ve stopped taking the survey. They found them to be either offensive or too intrusive -- ‘intrusive, invasive’ -- those are the words they used,” Loftus told the Associated Press on Friday.
According to the AP, the Defense Department said the survey was purposefully made more explicit this year in order to get more accurate results as the military aims to reduce sexual assaults and get more victims to come forward. The 2012 survey showed sexual assault incidents jumped by 50 percent since the previous survey was conducted, a total amount that surpasses the number of sexual assaults actually reported by military members.
Nate Galbreath, the senior executive adviser for the Pentagon’s sexual-assault prevention office, said more detailed questions are necessary. “This is a crime of a very graphic nature,” Galbreath told the AP. “For us to improve our understanding, it sometimes requires asking tough questions.”
Galbreath said the Defense Department brought in Rand analysts to develop the survey this year. “Research has told us, if I ask someone, ‘Have you ever been raped?’ they will say, ‘No,’” he told the AP. “If I ask that same person, ‘Have you ever been forced to engage in sexual activity against your will?’ they might say ‘Yes.’ It’s because of the loaded terms like rape and sexual assault, that it’s not very clear to a lot of people what we may be asking about.”
Rand analysts did not respond to inquiries for comment Friday night. But Kristie Gore, one of the project leaders at Rand, told the AP that participants could skip questions they found upsetting, or choose to simply not take the survey at all. Rand reportedly received a “relatively small” number of complaints about the survey, Gore told the AP.
This year, about 560,000 active duty, National Guard and Reserve members were asked to complete the survey, which is about five times the number of people the survey was sent to two years ago. It’s unclear how many surveys have been completed and returned. New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said changing the survey could skew results over time. “I am concerned the new survey was done in a manner that not only prevents comparing apples to apples from previous years,” Gillibrand told the Associated Press. “I hope this isn’t a case of, ‘If you don’t like the answer, change the question.”