Military sexual assault reports up 40 percent

    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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    © 2006 The Associated Press