'No Action Taken' Against One-Third of Sexual Assault Suspects in Cases Closed in 2010

Defense Department file photo

The military did not take action against one-third of those accused of sexual assault in cases completed in 2010, according to a new report from the Pentagon’s watchdog.

The Defense Department’s inspector general investigated 501 sample sexual assault cases from the 2,263 cases closed in 2010, and found that roughly 33 percent of the suspects or “subjects” in those cases fell into the category of “no action taken.” Of the 560 subjects included in the IG’s analysis, the military took no action against 187 individuals; 141 subjects were characterized as either unknown, or accused of “unfounded offenses.” While the report shows that 40 percent of suspects received some form of “adverse action,” only 11 percent, or 59 individuals, were convicted for either sexual assault offenses or lesser non-sexual assault offenses in the cases reviewed. Other adverse actions included discharges from service, firing, reprimands and counseling, and acquittal by trial. The cases involved suspects who were service members as well as some Defense civilians.

“No action taken” means the suspects were not subject to adverse or disciplinary action as a result of the allegation, according to Bridget Ann Serchak, public affairs chief in the Defense IG’s office.

The IG report focused primarily on how well the military’s investigative units completed sexual assault investigations, not actions taken against suspects; that data is included in the report’s appendices. The data tables address individual subjects and victims, not the number of cases, so those figures exceed the number of cases reviewed. The study also looked at completed cases, which accounts for the sample size. An estimated 26,000 incidents of unwanted sexual contact occurred during fiscal 2012, according to another Defense study, but only 3,374 sexual assault complaints were reported during that time.

The watchdog concluded that the department’s military criminal investigative units investigated most military sexual assault complaints by the book. The report’s sample study found 89 percent of the cases probed by the Army, Air Force and Naval investigative services were conducted properly, while 11 percent had serious flaws, and should be reopened. Those “deficiencies” included investigators’ failure to collect key evidence from the crime scene, victims or suspects, or to conduct thorough interviews with witnesses. The investigative units have reopened 31 of the 56 cases with serious problems, and the IG will oversee those investigations.

The IG recommended improvements to crime scene processing, evidence collection, supervision and reporting. The Army’s Criminal Investigation Command agreed with the report’s findings, while the heads of the Naval Criminal Investigation Service and the Air Force’s investigative unit disagreed with part of the report. The IG report “appears to evaluate NCIS investigations against standards nonexistent in DoD or NCIS policy during 2010,” said Susan Raser, executive assistant direction of the Navy criminal investigation directorate, in response.

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations did not agree with a “blanket policy stating agents ‘must’ collect clothing a victim or suspect changed into following an assault. Rather, AFOSI feels the best approach is for agents to assess and identify items with evidentiary value, through mandatory expert forensic science consultation, in all sexual assault cases, early in an investigation,” responded the director of strategic programs and requirements, whose name the Office of Inspector General redacted from its report. The Air Force also disagreed that it needed to improve its current interview process for victims, witnesses and suspects.

The report comes as a Senate bill that would remove the military chain of command from sexual assault cases gains more support. The legislation, shepherded by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., just got the backing of key Tea Party GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, according to a July 16 story in Politico.

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