Reporting of rape and other sexual assaults in the military is up by 50 percent, according to a Defense Department report that was released Thursday. White House and Pentagon officials said it was a welcome sign of increased confidence among victims that recent steps by military leaders show the Pentagon is taking these cases seriously.
But critics said there was no way to know whether the increase in reporting simply means that there were more sexual assaults, because unlike in the previous two years, the Defense Department did not estimate how many sexual assaults took place overall in 2013. “Prevalence” surveys estimated that there were 19,000 sexual assaults in 2011 and 26,000 in 2012. Despite those numbers, there were only 3,192 reported assault cases in 2011 and 3,374 in 2012.
By contrast, the number of reported cases jumped to 5,061 in 2013. But “since today’s report does not include a total estimated number of crimes committed, it is impossible to draw any conclusions regarding the number of increased reports,” said Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y. Gillibrand unsuccessfully pushed a bill early this year that would have removed sexual assault cases from the military chain of command.
Nonetheless, Gillibrand said the latest report “should send chills down people’s spines,” because even the known numbers show that less than 1 percent of reported cases – just 484 out of the 5,061 – proceed to trial. Of those, there were 376 convictions.
Speaking at a news briefing on the release of the report, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel acknowledged that “we have a long way to go before we get close to solving this problem.” But he also said that he believed that “victims are growing more confident in our system.”
He spoke directly to victims of sexual assault in the military, adding that the defense officials “are all listening to you, and we will do everything we can to support you.”