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Reports of sex assault in military rise 40 percent { March 17 2006 }

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Reports of Sex Assault in Military Rise 40%
By Bradley Olson
Baltimore Sun

March 17, 2006

ANNAPOLIS, Md. The number of reported sexual assaults in the military increased by almost 40% in 2005, although some of the rise is due to new Pentagon programs that make reporting assault easier and more confidential, according to a Defense Department report released Thursday.

There were 2,374 reported sexual assaults involving military service members last year, the report said, 674 more than in 2004, when the Defense Department began tallying them under congressional mandate.

Much of the increase came from a new policy permitting "restricted" reports, which let alleged victims get medical attention and counseling without notifying investigators.

The military received 435 restricted reports after the program began June 14. The alleged victims in a quarter of those cases later requested that the reports be unrestricted for investigation.

Officials said assault reports might have been more numerous if restricted reporting had been allowed earlier.

"The fact that the numbers are up, to us, is an indication that our program is up and our program is working," said Dr. Kay Whitley, deputy director of the Defense Department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.

The numbers will probably keep rising, Whitley said not because of an increase in assaults, but because programs to encourage reporting are working.

Other reasons for the rise include an Army policy change whereby reports deemed unsubstantiated are now counted in the overall total.

The Army used to investigate allegations and dismiss some reports, a common FBI Uniform Crime Reporting practice, the report said.

The 2005 Defense Authorization Act, which requires the Pentagon to provide an annual summary of sexual assault reports, was passed after a U.S. Air Force Academy scandal in which cadets said senior commanders often ignored rape allegations. The scandal prompted the Defense Department to evaluate how sexual assault allegations were handled military-wide.

About two-thirds of the 2,047 unrestricted reports were investigated, and the remaining third are pending, the report said. Punitive action was taken in 274 cases 79 by court-martial, 91 by nonjudicial punishment and 104 through administrative punishment such as a military discharge.

About half of the 1,386 cases investigated were deemed unsubstantiated, and final action against offenders was being processed in 352 cases.

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