The Reality of Sexual Assault in the US Military
On April 27, 2018, the Department of Defense released its 2017 Fiscal Year Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military. Let me preface with a startling statistic….being someone who formally worked in the sexual assault prevention field; the cost of the DoD 2017 report was $3,345,000…..just for the report. RAINN, one of the foremost national non-profit organizations working in sexual assault prevention and response has a total fiscal budget in 2015 of $6.6 million dollars. Half of their entire annual budget was the equivalent of the DoD report.
The DoD reports that in FY 2017, sexual assault reporting increased by nearly 10%. A fact the DoD is so proud of they highlight it on the cover letter to the Charmian of the Armed Services Committee, Honorable William Thornberry. The DoD implies that the increase in reporting does not correlate with an increase in assault, but rather an increase in the confidence levels of those seeking services after an assault. They do not, however, discuss how they verify this fact. And, there is a conspicuously and complete absence of the number of estimated actual sexual assaults in FY 2017.
Active duty service members make up 87% of the victims in the DoD report, the remanding victims are civilians/foreign nationals or unknown. It is significant to note that this report does not include statistics for those reporting the number of perpetrators being active duty military members, of which many active duty victims are prey. However, the data is lacking in its storytelling abilities across the board.
Where the numbers do not add up
The DoD report states that 6,797 active duty reported being a victim of sexual assault during the past fiscal year. The DoD report from 2014 showed 10,017 victims in 2017. This represents a drop in sexual assault from 2014 by over 4,000, 49% in a two-year time span. However, national statistics by the Department of Justice show that sexual assault is only down by 0.98% from 2014 to 2015, and reports no significant changes for 2016. The Department of Justice’s numbers include military sexual assault.
What do the numbers really mean?
Higher percentages of sexual assault victims in the military are reporting sexual assaults than in any other demographic groups. When we gather numbers of sexual assault and the actual percentage reporting from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and the Department of Justice’s National Crime Statistics Reports, the numbers really do not support the DoD’s report. The reporting rates for military men and women concerning sexual assault are still less than half of what they are for college students and the general population.
The reality is that sexual assault and harassment are still alive and well in the world, including the military. And as much as the military would like to profess that their programs are working, there are still reports of victims on active duty that are afraid for their careers, reprisals, and their personal well being if they report harassment or sexual assault.
Maybe the DoD’s money would be better spent on hiring an experienced, non-profit to run their sexual assault reporting programs? The Department of Defense needs to pass the baton of sexual assault prevention to an unbiased agency with the experience and knowledge to manage the program properly, where rank, status, and gender no longer play a role in whose report is believed, where confidentiality is actually observed, and where no one’s careers are in jeopardy for reporting.
Why Tell Now?
For those who have experienced sexual trauma, there are long-lasting effects that can change the course of one’s life. These effects can include PTSD symptoms such as flashbacks and depression; suicidal thoughts and attempts; substance abuse; eating disorders; sleep disorders; and self-harm issues. There can also be medical issues that arise from sexual assault either from the assault itself or from the secondary conditions, for example, PTSD can lead to peripheral neuropathy.
For veteran’s who did not report sexual harassment or assault while still active duty, there is hope. While you cannot file a claim for the assault or harassment itself, you can file a claim for any conditions, mental or physical, you experience as a result of that trauma, up to and including unemployability. The VA has different rules of evidence to support claims of personal assault so even if it was never reported, there are ways to support the claim. Getting ready to file a claim is also important, as veterans will have to go through some re-traumatization when having to retell their story. But there are ways to get help in dealing with this issue and getting through the claims process to try to ensure veteran’s who have been victims can get the medical and financial help they need to compensate for the damage that has been done.
If you are one of the members of this elite class of people who gave their all to defend our country and ended up having to defend themselves against unwanted advances, assault, harassment, or rape; please utilize the tools available to begin to protect yourself from the long term residuals that affect so many who do not get the emotional, medical, and financial assistance they need to become survivors.