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Reports Of Military Sexual Assaults Up 46 Percent — But Why?

Charles Dharapak
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., left, smiles as she listens to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speak to reporters during a news conference about a bill regarding military sexual assault cases on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 16, 2013. At center is Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

New numbers released by the Department of Defense show reports of sexual assault have skyrocketed 46 percent over the same period last year. But is the sharp increase due to an actual increase in assaults, or the fact service members aren't as frightened to report them?

The New York Times was the first to break the story. The paper cites Pentagon numbers that show there were 3,553 sexual assault complaints between October 2012 and June 2013:

The numbers included sexual assaults by civilians on service members and by service members on civilians.<br><br>Sexual assault was defined in the report as rape, sodomy and other unwanted sexual contact, including touching of private body parts.
According to The Associated Press, Defense Department officials say the spike in the number of reports reflects the safety service members feel in coming forward when they've been assaulted. The report made to the Response Systems Panel echoed this sentiment:
“A change in reports of sexual assault may reflect a change in victim confidence in Department of Defense response systems."

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill is backing a measure that would require the military to dishonorably discharge or dismiss any service member convicted of sexual assault. She released a statement today in response to the new Pentagon report:

"We know that the majority of military sexual assault survivors choose not to report their assaults-but this data suggests that the number of brave men and women choosing to pursue justice is increasing.<br><br>It also shows that a system that includes a role for commanders, and holds them accountable with historic reforms, will work for victims. However, real progress will require a sustained effort, and today's data in no way detracts from the urgency I feel in passing into law those reforms."
There's another, more controversial, measure in the Senate that is vehemently opposed by the Department of Defense. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's
Military Justice Improvement Act would remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command and give the discretion of how to proceed with those cases to military prosecutors.

Gillibrand's measure has been offered as an amendment to the Defense Bill. She expects the Senate will take it up for debate before the Thanksgiving recess.