WASHINGTON – Sexual assaults in the military are a growing epidemic across the services and thousands of victims are still unwilling to come forward despite a slew of new oversight and assistance programs, according to Pentagon documents.
Troubling new numbers estimate that up to 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year, according to survey results released against a backdrops of scandals including an ongoing investigation into more than 30 Air Force instructors for assaults on trainees at a Texas base
The report comes just days after the Air Force’s head of sexual assault prevention was arrested last weekend on charges of groping a woman in a suburban Virginia parking lot. And it follows a heated debate over whether commanders should be stripped of the authority to overturn military jury verdicts, such as one officer did in a recent sexual assault conviction.
President Obama delivered a sharp rebuke Tuesday, saying he has no tolerance for the problem, and he said he talked to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel about it. He said that any military member found guilty of sexual assault should be held accountable, prosecuted and fired.
“I don’t want just more speeches or awareness programs or training, or ultimately folks look the other way,” he said. “We’re going to have to not just step up our game, we have to exponentially step up our game to go after this hard.”
The Associated Press obtained documents and memos related to a new Pentagon report slated for release Tuesday. The documents show that the number of sexual assaults actually reported by members of the military rose 6 percent to 3,374 in 2012. But a survey of personnel who were not required to reveal their identities showed the number of service members actually assaulted could be as many as 26,000, but they never reported the incidents, officials said Tuesday.
That number is an increase over the 19,000 estimated assaults in 2011.
The statistics highlight the dismal results that military leaders have achieved in their drive to change the culture within the ranks, even as the services redoubled efforts to launch new programs to assist the victims, encourage reporting and increase commanders’ vigilance.
Hagel ordered a series of steps and reviews to increase officers’ accountability for what happens under their commands, and to inspect workstations for objectionable materials, according to memos and documents obtained by the AP.
“Sexual assault is a crime that is incompatible with military service,” Hagel said in a new response plan the department will release Tuesday. “It is an affront to the American values we defend, and it is a stain on our honor.”