There were 6,350 reported cases of sexual assault in the military last year, according to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey. While that number may sound staggering, it’s just a fraction of the predicted number of sexual assaults that went unreported.
Yesterday, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commandant of the Coast Guard released a letter with new instructions for how to deal with sexual assault among troops, outlining the seriousness of the problem. The letter follows a promise from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that the military would change its reporting structure and handling of sexual assault cases.
In the newly-released instructions, titled, the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program (SAPR), stress the importance of reducing the number of cases of rape and sexual abuse. They establish five new “Lines of Effort” in dealing with assault: “Prevention, Investigation, Accountability, Advocacy and Assessment,” and establish how members of the military can play a role in each of these lines of effort.
The instructions also offer up a new definition of sexual assault, striking the usual sterile military language of “military sexual trauma,” which puts the onus on the victim, not the perpetrator. The instructions clarify the new definition:
In 2007, Congress amended the UCMJ to address a wide range of sexual assault offenses under a single article, Article 120, which has since been amended again and will take effect on June 28, 2012. These amendments reorganize, revise and simplify the Article into four distinct offenses: Rape, Sexual Assault, Aggravated Sexual Contact and Abusive Sexual Contact. These four distinct offenses, when coupled with Forcible Sodomy (Article 125, UCMJ) and Attempts to commit these offenses (Article 80, UCMJ), constitutes the category of sexual assault crimes within DoD’s SAPR Program.
The American Civil Liberties Union has requested more information through the Freedom of Information Act on the number of incidents that don’t make it into official reports. A judge has ruled that the military must hand over that information by May 15.