A new report conducted by the Marine Corps [PDF] reveals that Camp Lejeune, the largest Marine Corps base on the East Coast, reported 70 cases of sexual assault. Corps wide, the Marines reported 346 cases of sexual assaults, a 10 percent increase from 2011.
“We have been ineffective at addressing and eliminating sexual assault within our ranks,” the report states. “In far too many cases across the Marine Corps, poor command climates due to unengaged leadership are eroding the trust necessary for victims to safely report these crimes.”
The International Business Times charted the reported incidents at Marine bases worldwide. For example, Okinawa, Japan reported 67 sexual assaults and Camp Pendleton in San Diego reported 64.
“[R]esearch shows that sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes in the United States,” Marie Brodie, manager for Marine Corps Community Services Lejeune Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, told The Jacksonville Daily News. Estimates suggest that approximately 80 percent of sexual assaults in the Marine Corps go unreported.
As evidenced in the documentary “The Invisible War,” the military’s system of vesting investigative, prosecutorial and sentencing responsibilities to a unit’s commanding officer is part of the problem. Since sexual assaults are perceived as matters of unit discipline, commanding officers have little incentive or ability to refer the investigation up the chain of command or to an independent prosecutor.
Rachel Natelson, legal director of the Service Women’s Action Network, blogged in the New York Times on Friday that the military justice system is in desperate need of reforms if it is to address the growing problem of sexual assaults. She wrote:
Command discretion, moreover, affects offenders as well as victims, leaving those of lower rank and achievement vulnerable to outsize punishment. In fact, it was to protect the rights of defendants from misguided prosecution that Canada, Britain and Australia successively transferred authority over criminal cases from the commanding officer to an independent prosecutor, on the premise that courts-martial were not sufficiently separated from the military chain of command to be considered impartial tribunals by constitutional and international treaty standards.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently announced a plan to shift authority over sex crimes to senior ranking officers instead of the junior commanders who frequently handle such cases and several Congressional offices have introduced legislation to transfer such cases to military proecutors and allow members of the armed services access to federal courts for civil tor and discrimination claims.