By Colleen Flaherty
Fort Hood Herald
Sexual assaults involving military personnel increased slightly last year, while more alleged offenders faced courts-martial, according to a new report from the Pentagon.
There were 3,192 reports of sexual assault during fiscal year 2011, compared to 3,158 in 2010 - a 1 percent increase. Of the victims, 2,723 were servicemembers. More than half of the reported offenders were other servicemembers.
In its Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military, the Defense Department describes "sexual assault" as a range of crimes, including rape, aggravated sexual assault and indecent assault.
Of the assaults reported last year, 2,439 were unrestricted - meaning the victim authorized an investigation.
Following investigation, 1,518 cases were handed off to commanders for possible disciplinary action. Commanders took action in 989 cases, and more than 60 percent were referred to court-martial. That represents a 10 percentage point increase in the rate of courts-martial referred from fiscal year 2010.
The prosecution rate of alleged military sex offenders has increased steadily since 2007, when 30 percent of cases were referred to court-martial.
Of the 1,783 completed investigations in 2011, 759 alleged offenders were in the Army, making it the branch with the highest number of reports, followed by the Air Force, with 236. Of reported victims, 802 were in the Army. The vast majority of alleged offenders were male and most alleged offenders and victims were lower-enlisted.
Since August 2011, a two-star general has overseen the Defense Department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. Several new victim-focused initiatives have been implemented since October, including expedited duty station transfers for victims of sexual assault.
Last week, the Pentagon announced a new policy that relieved company and squadron-level commanders of the ability to choose whether or not to to take further action in reported cases of attempted rape, forcible sodomy or sexual assault.
Defense officials said the new policy will leave more experienced officers to make such decisions, decreasing the chances of bias and making the process more consistent.
At Fort Hood, Army Community Services' Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program manager Mark Francis has said further Pentagon initiatives to curb sexual harassment and assault are under way. The installation is on track for merging its sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention staffs and procedures into one program, Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, by the October deadline.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The military recognizes the national designation and several events are planned at Fort Hood, including an awareness 5K run Saturday sponsored by the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention and Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers programs.
Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr., III Corps and Fort Hood commander, signed an awareness and prevention proclamation earlier this month. In a statement, he said sexual assault is a crime that undermines unit cohesion and goes against Army values.
"The proclamation focuses on two important concepts when we talk about eliminating sexual assault: prevention and teamwork," he said. "The key to prevention is intervention. Intervention by anyone, any time we see a situation developing that could end in sexual assault.
"We need to get past traditional thinking," she said. "Notions like 'It's not my business,' or 'I don't want to seem prudish,' have no place in this effort."
Contact Colleen Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHFortHood.
Fighting sexual assault
The Fort Hood Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program coordinates the efforts of several victim assistance agencies at Fort Hood. Call (254) 553-0904.
To reach the Defense Department's Safe Helpline for sexual assault and abuse, call (877) 995-5247 or go to www.safehelpline.org.