Sexual Assault in the Ranks

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Battleland discussed the infuriating problem of sexual assaults in the ranks of the U.S. military on the PBS NewsHour Tuesday night – just as we did more than 16 years ago. Battleland may be a lot older, but the plague of sexual attacks inside the U.S. military, unfortunately, seems to be retaining its youthful vigor.

The Pentagon‘s annual sexual-assault survey released Tuesday showed a remarkable 39% jump from 2010 to 2012 among active-duty women in uniform alleging they had been sexually assaulted. The anonymous poll charted a rise from 4.4% of women alleging sexual assault in 2010, to 6.1% in 2012. That translates into an increase from 19,300 women affected in 2010, to 26,000 last year (although it remains below 2006’s tally of 6.8%, which yielded an estimated toll of 34,200).

The Pentagon released the report two days after Arlington County, Va., police arrested Air Force Lieut. Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski shortly after midnight and charged him with sexual battery against a woman he allegedly accosted in a parking lot. Krusinski, allegedly drunk at the time, also happens to be the Air Force’s sexual-assault prevention chief (you can see him in happier times in this 2011 video from Afghanistan).

sh chart


The rate of Unwanted Sexual Contact experienced by men and women in the U.S. military.

The report and Krusinski’s arrest echoed around the capital like a bomb. “I have no tolerance for this — I have communicated this to the secretary of defense,” an angry President Obama told reporters. “We’re going to communicate this again to folks up and down the chain in areas of authority, and I expect consequences.”

Just across the Potomac River a short time later, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the consequences could be dire:

This department may be nearing a stage where the frequency of this crime and the perception that there is tolerance of it could very well undermine our ability to effectively carry out the mission and to recruit and retain the good people we need.

The Pentagon’s report acknowledged the problem:

The increased USC [unwanted sexual contact] rate for women and the unchanged USC rate for men this year indicate that the Department has a persistent problem and much more work to do in preventing sexual assault in the Armed Forces.

Dealing with sex among young men and women – especially when there is a commander-commanded relationship, and liquor, or other such substances, are involved – is difficult under the best of conditions. And the military lacks the best of conditions, given its stresses, its work-hard, play-hard ethos, and the fact that the service attracts its fair share of dolts.

To try to curb the epidemic, the Pentagon report says:

DoD SAPRO [Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office] began to incorporate the 2012 Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Strategic Direction to the Joint Force on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response into an updated DoD-Wide SAPR [Sexual Assault Prevention and Response] Strategic Plan. This new approach will be structured around five multidisciplinary and complementary lines of effort: Prevention, Investigation, Accountability, Victim Assistance (Advocacy), and Assessment.

Some lawmakers find the Pentagon’s bureaucratic approach insufficient. They’d like to take the prosecution of sexual-assault cases away from the military chain of command involved, and give it to a new Pentagon office dedicated to handling such cases.

“If the man in charge for the Air Force in preventing sexual assaults is being alleged to have committed a sexual assault this weekend,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., told top Air Force officials, “obviously there’s a failing in training and understanding of what sexual assault is, and how corrosive and damaging it is to good order and discipline.”

The Pentagon’s 1,494-page report, published in two volumes, is big enough to ensure it’s unlikely to be read cover to cover. But it did contain some interesting data stemming from the anonymous survey of 108,000 military personnel about what they experienced in the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2012:

— Of the 6.1% of women who experienced unwanted sexual contact, 32% indicated the most serious behavior they experienced was unwanted sexual touching only, 26% indicated they experienced attempted sex, and 31% indicated they experienced completed sex.

— Most experiences happened at a military installation (67%) and during work day/duty hours (41%; both unchanged from 2006 and 2010).

— 94% indicated the offender(s) were male only; 1% indicated the offender(s) were female only; and 5% indicated the offenders were both males and females (all unchanged from 2006 and 2010).

— The top three types of offenders indicated were: military coworker(s) (57%), another military person (40%), and another military person(s) of higher rank/grade who was not in their chain of command (38%; all unchanged from 2006 and 2010).

— 3% indicated the offender used drugs to knock them out, 47% indicated they or the offender had been drinking alcohol before the incident, and 2% indicated they or the offender had been using drugs before the incident.

— 50% indicated the offender used some degree of physical force (22 percentage points higher than 2006 and unchanged since 2010), 17% indicated the offender threatened to ruin their reputation if they did not consent (unchanged from 2006 and 2010), and 12% indicated the offender threatened to physically harm them if they did not consent (unchanged from 2006 and 2010).

— 30% indicated that the offender sexually harassed them before or after the situation; 8% indicated the offender stalked them; and 20% indicated the offender both sexually harassed and stalked them.

— 17% indicated they reported the incident to a military authority or organization only (unchanged from 2010) and 16% reported to both a civilian and a military authority or organization (9 percentage points higher than 2010).

“As today’s report shows, we got some work to do,” Army Major General Gary Patton, director of the Pentagon’s sexual assault prevention and response office, told reporters as he and Hagel released the report. “While we’re moving ahead and putting in place important new programs to combat this crime, it’s very clear we have more work to do.”

Can’t hurt to have an Army general named Patton in charge.