The number of U.S. Military officials reporting incidents of sexual assault has increased 8 percent in 2014, according to a Department of Defense analysis cited by media reports. The report, which will be publicly released Thursday, is expected to renew a debate in Congress about the effectiveness of the military's policies in prosecuting such crimes.
According to the 136-page report, a copy of which was reportedly obtained by CNN, 4.3 percent of active-duty women said they were victims of sexual assault in 2014, down from 6.1 percent in 2012. The Pentagon report also noted that 62 percent of those who had complained of sexual assault, also faced retaliation or ostracism at a later date. Overall, 5,983 military personnel reported sexual assaults in 2014 until Sept. 30, up from 5,518 cases in the previous year, Reuters reported.
"The importance of this upward trend in reporting cannot be overstated," the Pentagon said in the report, according to CNN, adding: "Increased reporting signals not only growing trust of command and confidence in the response system, but serves as the gateway to provide more victims with support and to hold a greater number of offenders appropriately accountable."
The Pentagon report also said that the increase in the percentage of cases in 2014 did not signify an increase in the incidence of crime, and instead denoted an increasing confidence in the response system put in place to deal with such cases, CNN reported.
But, the Pentagon report, which tracks assaults that take place every year along with a survey every two years to analyze its prevalence in the armed forces, also found that many victims still do not feel comfortable reporting sexual incidents to their seniors.
“Pending the report's public release tomorrow, assuming news accounts are correct — reporting of assaults being up and incidents of assault being down are exactly the combination we're looking for. I'm sure there's more work to do, and I'm anxious to hear how victims feel about the services and support offered to them when they report an assault," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said, according to The Associated Press.
A survey conducted by Rand Corp noted that about 19,000 members of the military faced sexual assault or other forms of unwanted sexual contact in 2014, down from 26,000 in 2012, when the two-year survey was last done. The anonymous survey also found that one out of every four victims filed a report this year, compared to one in 10 victims who came forward in 2012, AP reported.
In March, most of the Senate voted in favor of a bipartisan bill that would take away military commanders’ ability to decide which cases should go to court-martial and instead transfer those powers to uniformed prosecutors. But, the bill fell five votes short of the 60 needed to pass, The Washington Post reported. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who is the lead sponsor of the bill, said, according to The Post, that its supporters would lead another vote by the end of the year.
"The military has not been able to demonstrate that they have made a difference and they need to be held to the scrutiny and that standard this year because throughout the last year we have continued to see evidence of how much farther we have to go to solve sexual assault in the military," Gillibrand said Tuesday, according to CNN.