• December 19, 2014

Men sexually assaulted in military speak out

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Posted: Wednesday, January 1, 2014 4:30 am

BALTIMORE — Brian Lewis figures he could have dealt with the rape.

It’s the Navy’s response to the attack that still haunts the Baltimore native.

Lewis, the son of a Defense Department civilian who commanded his JROTC battalion in high school, sailed through three years in the Navy and three months aboard the submarine tender USS Frank Cable.

One night on shore in Guam, he was taken out to dinner by a higher-ranking shipmate, a man who had a wife and children. After the meal, he said, his dinner partner pulled out a knife, threatened his life, and sodomized him.

A friend reported the attack, and Lewis was visited by a senior officer on the Cable. He said the officer ordered him not to cooperate with Navy investigators.

Lewis said he did as he was told. The investigation stopped dead. There was no court-martial. His attacker was never punished.

Less likely to report

That outcome is typical for male victims of military sexual assault, a Baltimore Sun analysis of hundreds of cases found.

The outrage over sexual assault in the military has focused largely on female service members, and with reason: A woman in uniform is much likelier to be targeted than a man, Pentagon surveys indicate. But because male service members greatly outnumber females, officials believe the majority of sexual assault victims — 53 percent in 2012 — are men.

These men — an estimated 13,900 last year alone — are far less likely than women to report an attack. Only 13 percent of reports last year were filed by men, military data show.

But the disparities do not end there. The Sun found when men do report a sexual assault, military authorities are less likely to identify a suspect, to refer charges to court-martial or to discharge the perpetrator than in cases in which the victim is a woman.

Critics blame those differences on a military culture they say has been slow to recognize the possibility that men can be raped — and that remains hostile to the victims.

“For young men, the military justice system is the last place they would seek remedy,” said Nancy J. Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, a Washington-based advocacy group for sexual assault victims of both genders. “Male victims face more obstacles, more prejudice against them, more disbelief, more efforts to silence and humiliate them.”

Rape prevention training

Military leaders, under pressure from Congress and the White House to eliminate rape from the ranks, acknowledge there have been shortcomings in the handling of sexual assault cases over the years. But they say they are doing better. A special Pentagon office has been training troops and commanders in rape prevention, working with prosecutors and encouraging victims to come forward.

Creating conditions in which victims feel confident reporting assaults is key, they say, to punishing more perpetrators. But getting male victims to cooperate with investigators presents a particular challenge.

“You have an environment that values strength and values the warrior ethos,” said Nate Galbreath, the top civilian adviser to the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. “And, of course, when any man is sexually assaulted, they really wonder whether or not they fit into this warrior culture. But what we’re trying to get across to men is that warriors not only know how to fight, they also know how to ask for help.”

Breaking the silence

In March, Lewis, now 34, became the first man to testify before Congress about being sexually assaulted in the military. He is one of a small group of male victims now breaking a decades-long silence.

Speaking out in documentaries, at news conferences and on Capitol Hill, the men said they want the same things that female survivors want: Better services for victims, justice for perpetrators, and, ultimately, the elimination of rape from the ranks.

Many want to remove prosecutions for sexual assault from the chain of command — taking the authority to send suspects to court-martial away from commanders and giving it to trained lawyers.

But they also want something more: A change in the way sexual assault is viewed, both inside the military and out. It isn’t a women’s issue, the men say, but a problem that can affect anyone.

That shift in perspective, they say, would benefit male and female service members alike.

When a man alleged a sexual assault, wrongful sexual contact and forcible sodomy were the charges most frequently investigated.

Military data show the typical perpetrator is a man who has served longer in the military than his victim and holds a higher rank. In most cases, the assailant identifies as heterosexual.

Roger Canaff, who has trained Army lawyers in prosecuting sexual assault cases, said many attacks amount to a particularly violent form of hazing.

It “isn’t necessarily seen as a sexual act,” said Canaff, a former prosecutor in New York and Virginia. “It’s seen as a humiliating act. It’s the ultimate act of emasculation.

“You see that in fraternity life, sometimes. You see that in the civilian world. The military has it also.”

‘Must be stamped out’

Men in the military outnumber women by more than 5 to 1. The Pentagon estimates that thousands of men experience unwanted sexual contact each year, but only 380 reported an assault in 2012.

Of those, just 247 sought a criminal investigation.

When there is an investigation, cases with male victims are less likely to be sent to court-martial, The Sun found. Of investigations completed in 2012 into assaults on men, 28 percent resulted in sex offense charges being sent to a court-martial. For women, the figure was 42 percent.

One reason for that disparity is the greater reluctance of male victims to cooperate with investigators, the data show.

Sexual assault survivors, advocates and military officials say victims of both genders confront several barriers to reporting and assisting with an investigation: embarrassment or shame, skepticism about whether their attackers will be punished, and concern about the impact on their own careers.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has called sexual assault “a threat to the discipline and the cohesion of our force” that “must be stamped out.”

Hagel meets weekly with the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, which officials say is working to prevent attacks on both men and women and to ensure that assailants are punished.

Galbreath, who joined the office in 2007, describes a sea change in the military’s efforts since then — particularly during the past two years under Hagel and his predecessor, Leon Panetta.

“I’ve heard Brian Lewis’ account and what he had to go through, and it just breaks my heart that in the years that he served, there just wasn’t this kind of program available for him,” said Galbreath, a criminal investigator turned clinical psychologist.

“I would offer that if Brian had experienced sexual assault in the military today, his experience would be fundamentally different.”

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