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Military Sex Assaults a 'Growing Epidemic'

Military sexual assaults are on the rise, and a new survey suggests the problem may be much more widespread than officially reported.

The official number of sexual assaults in the military rose 6% between 2011 and 2012, when more than 3,300 service members reported such incidents, according to a Pentagon report released Wednesday. But the true number is likely much higher.

The Pentagon estimates as many as 26,000 military members may have been subject to sexual assault in 2012 but didn't report it, according to the Associated Press. So what is the federal government doing to prevent and deter sexual assaults in the military?

Reporting Process

The Department of Defense has an existing policy that allows victims of sexual violence to safely report the crime using two methods.

Restricted reporting allows service members to confidentially report sexual assault to:

  • A sexual assault response coordinator (SARC),
  • A victim advocate (VA), or
  • A health care provider.

Under this method, while a servicemember is entitled to receive medical care and counseling, there is no criminal investigation that is required by law enforcement or military command.

Unrestricted reporting works a bit differently. An officer who has been abused can choose to come forward and report the crime unrestricted, which offers the following benefits:

  • A civilian or military protection order. Just like in a civilian sexual violence and domestic violence cases, service members can request an order to keep their attackers from contacting them or coming within a certain distance.
  • The posibility of an expedited transfer to another base or unit.
  • An official investigation, which can be requested through either law enforcement or the SARC.

Punishments and Calls for Change

Those accused of sexual abuse via unrestricted reporting can face trial by court-martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Military courts-martial do not have to abide by the same rules of evidence or procedure that civilian courts do, and often convictions can be dismissed by a commanding officer.

As the head of the Air Force's task force on sexual assault prevention now faces sexual battery charges himself, according to MSNBC, it's added fuel to the debate over how the military handles sex-assault cases.

The Pentagon's report called military sexual assaults a growing epidemic. In response, President Obama on Tuesday called for harsher punishments and "no tolerance" for sexual crimes in the military, The Washington Post reports. Actual change, however, remains to be seen.

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