US military sexual assault reports jumped 50% last year

WASHINGTON (TIP): Reported sexual assaults in the US military jumped 50 percent last year, the Pentagon said on Thursday, and officials welcomed the spike as a sign that a high-level crackdown has made victims more confident their attackers will be prosecuted.

Defense secretary Chuck Hagel said the jump in reported sexual assaults to 5,061 in the 2013 fiscal year from 3,374 the previous year, was “unprecedented.” He announced six new directives to expand the fight, including an alcohol policy review and an effort to encourage reporting by male victims. Men are thought to represent about half of the victims of military sexual assault but made up only 14 percent of the reports that were investigated.

“We believe victims are growing more confident in our system,” Hagel told a Pentagon news conference. “Because these crimes are underreported, we took steps to increase reporting and that’s what we’re seeing.” Despite increased focus on the issue over the past year, the military has continued to face embarrassing incidents in which officers have been accused of tolerating sexual misconduct and even encouraging it, rather than fighting the problem.

Critics said the Pentagon’s numbers on increased reporting demonstrated little improvement in the proportion of cases going to trial or the percentage of convictions. A total 484 cases went to trial in the 2013 fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30 and 370 people were convicted of an offense, the report said. That compared with 302 trials the previous year and 238 convictions.

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