Reports of sexual assaults in the military increased by nearly 40
percent last year, the Pentagon announced Thursday, saying the increase
was at least partly due to a new program that encourages victims to
come forward.

According to a report released Thursday, there were
2,374 allegations of sexual assaults reported during 2005, compared to
1,700 in 2004. Of last year’s reports, 435 were initially filed under a
new program that allows victims to report the incident and receive
health care or counseling services but does not notify law enforcement
or commanders.

The restricted, confidential reporting program
also allows the victims to consider pursuing an investigation later,
and that was done in 108 of the 435 cases during 2005. Until that new
policy went into effect last June, an investigation was automatically
triggered by a sexual assault report.

“This is the most
underreported crime in our society,” said Roger Kaplan, a Pentagon
spokesman. “The key, at least in the military, is to make it less. We
want victims to have treatment. And the more who come forward, the
better chance we have of taking action and getting the offenders off
the street.”

Kaplan said it is impossible to tell whether the
increase in reports during 2005 signals any actual increase in sexual
assaults. But he said he believes it shows that the military’s
extensive program in recent years to better train troops and to
encourage reporting has been successful.

According to the Defense
Department, the military services have set up sexual assault program
offices at all major installations and trained more than 1,000 response
coordinators and victim advocates. The Army, for example, also has a
sexual assault coordinator deployed with each brigade and a victim’s
advocate with every battalion, said Kaplan.

Of the cases that
were fully investigated in 2005, nearly 1,400 _ or 68 percent _ were
completed by the end of the year. No action was taken against more than
800 alleged offenders because the incident was unfounded, there was a
lack of evidence or the person was not identified.

Among the
remaining cases that were finalized, 79 people received courts-martial,
91 were given nonjudicial punishments and 104 were discharged or
otherwise reprimanded.

The military has come under fire for
repeated problems with sexual abuse at the service academies, in units
stationed abroad in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan or Bahrain, and at
military installations. Detainee abuse allegations have also included
sexual assaults.

The Air Force Academy in Colorado is still
struggling to recover from complaints that dozens of female cadets were
assaulted and then punished when they reported it. And a recent survey
by the Veterans Affairs Department showed that six in 10 women who
served in the National Guard and Reserves say they were sexually
harassed or assaulted.


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