When statistics show that sexual assault reports in the military have increased by 50 percent in the past year, that sounds like awful news, but military officials are championing the figure as progress. Before getting violently upset, hear them out.
One of the major problems in combatting sexual assault in the military is a lack of reporting. The Department of Defense notes that 86 percent of sexual assault cases go unreported. Due to an atmosphere of cronyism and fierce loyalty, many armed service men and women are afraid to come forward to file official complaints against their assailants. As top officials see it, the fact that more reports are being registered indicates a renewed faith in the system.
Colonel Alan Metzler, who is heading the Pentagon’s exploration on military sexual assault, said that early data indicates that while reports have gone up, actual incidents of sexual assault have remained steady.
While increased reporting is a good start, the part about sexual assaults remaining constant is definitely not good news. Considering how prevalent these horrible acts seem to be, the fact that the ongoing political attention and prevention efforts have done nothing to reduce the rate thus far is certainly discouraging.
Reports increased in every branch of the military. The Marines witnessed the largest leap with an 86 percent increase in reports in 2013. The Navy registered the smallest increase, but even that branch was up 45 percent.
The next step will be to see how the military handles these reports. The media scrutiny of military sexual assault cases and subsequent government assurance that they will improve the situation may have motivated more victims to come forward, but military head honchos will need to legitimately pursue justice rather than continuing to sweep it under the rug.
If officials prove that they will punish military personnel guilty of sexual assault, that would not only weed out serial assailants, but also ideally deter others from committing rape once they realize they can no longer get away with it.
The military received some help from the federal government to make that a reality. Last week, President Barack Obama signed a defense bill to increase the punishments for perpetrators of sexual assault: offending soldiers will be subject to dishonorable discharge, peers will be punished for retaliating against those who file reports, and commanding officers will no longer be allowed to overrule jury decisions against assailants.
Now that sexual assault reports are going up, it’s up to military officials to ultimately bring them back down. Authorities can no longer claim to be helpless to stop assaults when no one reports the incidents. It’ll require a long process and a military cultural shift to make the necessary change; hopefully the U.S. is legitimately committed to mending this problem.
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