For critics of the military’s handling of sexual assault claims among its ranks, the case at the U.S. Naval Academy that ended in March with the acquittal of former midshipman Joshua Tate, was just one of many recent cases that exposed problems with the military justice system and the role of commanders in such cases. To get an idea of the breadth of the problem, the Pentagon’s latest figures show it received 5,061 reports of unwanted sexual contact in fiscal year 2013, an increase of 50 percent compared with the previous year. (There are a total of 2.2. million active duty service members.)
Who is reporting?
– 56 percent of service members who reported a sexual assault were between the ages of 16 to 24.
– 79 percent were female.
Who is not reporting?
– The 2,828 service members who reported a sexual assault to the Defense Department in 2012 made up approximately 11 percent of the total number of service members who the Pentagon had estimated to have experienced unwanted sexual contact that year.
– At the service academies, specifically, the department estimated that for the 2011-2012 school year, 11 percent of the estimated number of cadets and midshipmen who experienced unwanted sexual contact filed a report.
– Compare those figures to the civilian world, where about 60 percent of sexual assaults are not reported, according to Department of Justice data.
Restricted vs. Unrestricted Reports
Service members who have been sexually assaulted face a choice between making a restricted report, which is confidential and allows them access to services without triggering a criminal investigation, or an unrestricted report, which does trigger an investigation. The number of restricted reports has more than doubled since 2007, including a 58 percent increase between 2012 and 2013.
The accuser in the Naval Academy case had initially tried to file a restricted report, but was told she could not because other students had already reported the alleged assault at an off-campus party in 2012. One of the many reasons she gave for not wanting to cooperate with investigators initially was that she had seen what had happened to other female midshipmen who had filed unrestricted reports. Her own experience may, in turn, influence midshipmen going forward. The latest Defense Department figures for the service academies show restricted reports at the Naval Academy increased by 8 percent during the 2011-2012 school year, compared with the previous one, while unrestricted reports dropped by 30 percent.
What happens to the accused?
– For 1,187 military service members out of a total of 3,234, commanders had sufficient evidence and authority to go forward with some type of disciplinary action for a sexual assault offense.
– Of that total, 838 were referred to a court martial. The rest received a non-judicial punishment or other administrative punishment or discharge.
– In 15 percent of completed investigations last year, authorities determined the allegations were unfounded.