Sexual assaults continue to haunt the U.S. military as a recent report paints a picture of a Defense Department struggling to cope with a pervasive problem.
In its annual “Sexual Assault and Prevention Report,” Defense on Friday announced that fiscal 2011 saw a total of 3,192 reported incidents, a 1 percent increase over fiscal 2010. Defense had jurisdiction to take action against 791 service members for a sexual assault offense, according to the report.
“Sexual assault has no place in this department. It is an affront to the basic American values we defend and to the good honor of our service members and their families,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement. Panetta promised he would announce new steps this week during consultations with Congress.
The number of assaults that are not reported is thought to be much higher, with recent Defense estimates placing the total for fiscal 2011 at 19,000, according to The Hill.
Since the end of fiscal 2011, the department has implemented new policies designed to combat sexual assaults, including expanded legal assistance and expedited transfers for victims, as well as a longer retention of forensic evidence and investigative reports, according to the Defense report.
During a breakfast that Government Executive sponsored last week, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations at the U.S. Navy, said many in the military did not yet grasp the significance of its sexual assault problem.
“What isn’t changing to satisfy me are the numbers,” Greenert said. “We are still having these events. We’ve got to get to the left side of all this.”
According to a Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic report that CNN obtained, female personnel are discharged from the military with personality disorder diagnoses at a rate disproportionately higher than male personnel. Several female former military members relayed personal accounts to CNN of being deemed mentally unstable by military psychiatrists soon after reporting instances of sexual assault.
A documentary concerning sexual assault in the military, The Invisible War, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The film will be distributed nationwide this summer.