Human Rights

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: Military Is Under-Reporting Sexual Assault and May Be Intimidating Victims

Military spouses and civilians near military bases are especially vulnerable.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is accusing the Pentagon of under-reporting the true scope of sexual assault in the military community, the Associated Press reports.

Gillibrand said the Pentagon refused to provide her with all of the information she asked for regarding sexual assault allegations at major military bases. Spouses of military members and civilians who live near or in military basis are especially vulnerable, according to the Senator. "I don't think the military is being honest about the problem," Gillibrand told the AP.

In 107 cases of sexual assault the senator analyzed, she determined that most of the punishments were too lenient and the word of the assailant was more likely to be believed over the victim. Just 11 of the cases resulted in convictions and less than a quarter of all cases went to trial. More than half of the victims in the cases were female civilians.

The Defense Department, however, said significant progress has been made in tackling sexual assault in the military in its annual report on sexual assaults released Friday. The military's report also found that reported sex crimes have decreased. The department doesn’t have the authority survey civilians, Laura Seal, a Defense Department spokeswoman, told the AP.

One case in particularly bothered Gillibrand, per the AP:

In one of the cases Gillibrand reviewed, an airman allegedly pinned his ex-girlfriend down and then raped her. During the investigation, two other civilian victims stepped forward to accuse the same airman of sexual assault. One of them, the wife of another service member, awoke in the night to find the airman in bed with her. Two of his fingers were inside her vagina. The investigating officer recommended the airman be court-martialed. If convicted, he faced a lengthy prison term.

But the investigator's superiors decided against a trial and used administrative procedures to discharge the airman under "other than honorable conditions." The Air Force said the victims preferred this course of action. Two of them had decided they "wanted no part in the case," according to the Air Force, while the third said she did not want to testify.

Gillibrand says the outcome suggests the victims may have been intimidated.

"It's frustrating because you look at the facts in these cases and you see witnesses willing to come forward, getting the medical exam and either eventually withdrawing their case or the investigators deciding that her testimony wasn't valid or believable," she said.

Gillibrand said the Pentagon provided 107 cases of sexual assault for review in December of 2013 and that was only after former Sen. Carl Levin, then chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, intervened. Seal said that Gillibrand’s request was “extraordinary” but the AP obtained more than 1,000 cases of sexual assault claims based in Japan between 2005 and early 2013.

Gillibrand is still seeking files from other years.



Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior editor at AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @Russian_Starr.

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