Both Sexual Assault Claims and Claims of Retaliation on Rise at DOD

This week, a new report released by the Department of Defense showed a 10 percent increase in servicemembers who report being the victim of sexual assault. According to Caroline Houck at Defense One, “In 2017, 6,769 servicemembers reported being the victim of a sexual assault, though a tenth of those incidents occurred before they joined the military.”

Rear Adm. Ann Burkhardt, head of the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO), called the increase a positive sign, rather than a negative one. According to Burkhardt, ““We view this willingness to report as the result of a decade-long effort to improve victim support, criminal investigation and military justice.”

However, Houck notes that this isn’t necessarily the most obvious interpretation of the data and that “the other possible explanation for more reports – that there were more victims – can’t be discounted, because the Pentagon only conducts a survey to estimate the prevalence of sexual assault every other year” and “2017 was not one of those years.”

While Government Executive cites DOD officials as concerned that sexual assault training has reached a point of oversaturation and “training fatigue,” the DOD’s rosy interpretation of the data might be premature, as the data also shows a notable uptick in the number of servicemembers who claim to have been retaliated against for filing a sexual assault claim, as spotted by Lolita Baldor at the Associated Press.

While 84 servicemembers reported being the victim of retaliation following a sexual assault claim in 2016, that number has since risen to 146 – an increase of 174%.

According to Federal News Radio, “The bulk of the retaliation cases involved women who had filed sexual assault complaints, while less than 20 percent involved service members who filed sexual harassment complaints. In their complaints, many said they felt ostracized and faced cruelty or mistreatment.”

 

 

 

 

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