Military Cracks Down on Sexual Assaults

The military is implementing new efforts in an attempt to curb sexual assaults.

Fort Bragg Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair appeared to be at the top of his game, deeply involved in the war in Afghanistan as the 82nd Airborne Division's deputy commanding general for support. But in May, Sinclair was sent home. Fort Bragg officials refused to say why at the time, only that Sinclair was being assigned a desk job while facing a criminal investigation. Five months later, on Sept. 27, Fort Bragg announced that Sinclair had been charged with forcible sodomy and other sex offenses.

The charges against such a high-ranking officer are unusual. And the case draws attention to the military's poor record in curbing a rising number of sexual assaults in its ranks.
 
The military is implementing new efforts in an attempt to battle long-standing assertions by women that their chains of command look the other way, often sticking up for the service members accused of assaulting them. As a result, women victims can be reluctant to acknowledge that an assault even occurred.
 
The numbers appear to support their claim. The Pentagon estimates that 19,000 service members were sexually assaulted last year, yet only 3,192 cases were reported. Of those, an NBC News analysis shows, 240 led to prosecution.
 
The Pentagon recognizes the extent of the problem. In April -- after the release of an annual report on sexual assaults in the military -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced new initiatives to curb sexual assaults, including establishing a "special victims' unit" within each service branch.
 
"Sexual assault has no place in this department," Panetta said in a news conference coinciding with the release of the report. "It is an affront to the basic American values we defend, and to the good honor of our service members and their families."
 
A report released early this year shows that a typical sexual assault victim in the Army is a junior enlisted woman, age 18 to 25, who is often under the influence of alcohol and attacked by a male of similar rank. The attacks happen most often during the weekends, away from military supervision, according to the report.
 
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights will hold hearings on sexual assaults in the military on Jan. 11 in Washington.
 
"It is time the public got a good look at what the Pentagon is doing to resolve these problems, how they are handling those who are alleged to have perpetrated these acts, how the victims are treated when they report assaults and have to go through the legal process and how reporting these acts affects their health and military careers," said Civil Rights Commission member Dave Kladney, who encouraged the inquiry.
 
Patton, director of the Pentagon's sexual assault program, said the answer to reducing sexual assaults in the military "is not one silver bullet."
 
"The solution (is) a multipronged approach that must be done persistently and from the top all the way to the bottom," he said.
 
The approaches include training, investigation, accountability, advocacy and assessment, Patton said.
 
Victims can make confidential "restricted" reports and receive the same services as victims who file "unrestricted" reports subject to criminal investigation.
 
Getting victims to report sexual assaults is essential, Patton said.
 
"That has to be echoed and emphasized all the way down through the chain of command to your soldiers on Ardennes Street by their team leaders, by their squad leaders, by their platoon sergeants," he said.
 

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