The New York Times reported Thursday that the latest numbers from the Pentagon estimated that for the 2012 fiscal year some 26,000 people in the military were sexually assaulted, up from 19,000 the year before. While this number is shockingly high, even more shocking is the fact that the military only reported 3,374 sexual assaults for 2012. This means that greater than 22,000 sexual assaults went unreported in 2012.
The suggestion has been that many – and, by these numbers, most – victims of sexual assault in the military do not report the crimes because of a fear of retribution, or because of a fear that justice within the military system will not occur. In fact, the report comes on the heals of an arrest and charges of sexual battery on Sunday of an officer who was tasked with sexual assault prevention programs for the Air Force in Arlington, VA.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has proposed having all sex offenders in the military discharged from service, and has been focused on changing the current system of justice, where claims are considered by those within the complaining individual's chain of command. The Senate is also focusing on recent decisions by high ranking officials to overturn jury convictions in sexual assault cases.
It is good to see the Senate taking action to provide some level of protection to women in particular in military service. Whether in or outside of the armed forces, sexual assault victims often have difficulty coming forward to implicate their assailants. Whether the conduct rises to the level of assault, or even to a lesser extent of sexual harassment, victims need to be assured that they will be protected when they come forward, and the only way to give that assurance is by prosecuting (criminally) or punishing (civilly) those who commit the bad acts as well as those who choose to ignore them.
There are many laws in the United States which protect victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault from retaliation. Unless and until those laws are enforced, however, too many victims will continue to remain in the shadows.