Increase in reports of assaults is good
The Pentagon says reports of sexual assaults in the military rose by 40 percent from 2004 to last year.
REPORTS of sexual assaults in the military rose by nearly 40 percent last year from 2004, but the increase can be attributed to a new policy encouraging victims to file reports. Society's most underreported crime is now being reported more often on military bases, a highly positive sign that the policy is working.
The military received 2,374 allegations of sexual assault involving a military member as a victim or alleged offender, compared with 1,700 the previous year. Most of the reports were filed after the Pentagon set up sexual assault program offices at major installations and trained more than 1,000 response coordinators and victim advocates.
The key ingredient in the new policy, implemented last June, provided victims confidentiality in receiving health care or counseling without triggering a criminal investigation or making the victim's commander aware of the alleged assailant's identity. Avoiding the possibility of embarrassment or retaliation, 435 took that option, although 108 chose to pursue an investigation later.
The Pentagon initiated the policy after being criticized for problems with sexual abuse at the Air Force Academy and at units stationed in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Bahrain. At least 92 rape complaints were made during from 2001 to 2003 in all Pacific Air Forces, including 11 at Hawaii's Hickam Air Force Base.*
The confidentiality option is important, but Air Force Brig. Gen. K.C. McClain, who heads the effort, points out that the general policy focuses on education, aimed at both potential victims and perpetrators. "One of the key things," she says, "is we not only do not want victims of sexual assault, but we don't want perpetrators of sexual assault."
McClain expects the number of reports to continue rising until it reaches a plateau, then decreases. Whatever the number, the Pentagon should be unrelenting in adhering to the policy. At no point will it be able to say that this mission has been accomplished.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
» A 2004 review of sexual assaults in the military found that 92 complaints were filed in the Pacific Air Forces from 2001 to 2003. An editorial on Page A12 yesterday incorrectly said the complaints were filed during a five-month period.
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