In June, the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff and Judge Advocates General of each of the military services testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on various proposals to combat sexual assault in the military. Congress demanded testimony after the Defense Department’s, or DOD’s, annual report showed that despite the military’s recent efforts to ramp up sexual assault prevention programs, rates of sexual assault in the military climbed by 34 percent between 2010 and 2012. A total of 26,000 service members are estimated to have experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012, compared to 19,300 in 2010. Moreover, fewer than 3 out of every 100 estimated sexual assaults in the military in 2012 were ever prosecuted—a shockingly low percentage that has shown no sign of improvement.
While some military leaders have acknowledged the severity of the military’s sexual assault problem, others have engaged in a campaign to convince the public that the problem is exaggerated. They have done so largely by questioning the methodology of the military’s own survey instrument on which the Pentagon’s prevalence estimates are based. But our recent analysis suggests that the DOD’s estimates may substantially underestimate the problem. A significant percentage of cases, for example, are counted each year as a single “incident” but involve multiple perpetrators and/or multiple victims.
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