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It seems military sexual assaults are greatly increasing throughout our nation's armed forces, according to unsettling new reports from Washington.
Defense officials intimate that the 50 percent increase in sexual assault reports between 2011-12 and 2012-13 is a reflection of victims' increasing willingness to come forward in the past year, reports The Associated Press.
What does this mean for safety and privacy in our military?
Reports of sexual assaults in the armed forces have become increasingly common in the past few years. In May 2013, the Pentagon estimated that at least 26,000 service members were subject to sexual assault and didn't report it -- about six times the number of sexual assaults that were reported between 2011 and 2012.
Col. Alan R. Metzler, deputy director of the Pentagon's sexual assault prevention and response office, attributes the rise in the 2012-13 reports to victims agreeing to "make official complaints, rather than simply seeking medical care without filing formal accusations," reports the AP.
Servicemen and women are encouraged in all instances to report sexual assault, which under military law is defined as committing a sexual act upon another person:
Many service members who are victims of sexual assault choose to report these crimes confidentially, receiving medical care and victim advocacy but not necessitating a criminal investigation.
In preliminary data received by the AP, sexual assaults increased by 46 percent in the Navy and 86 percent in the Marine Corps during the 2012-13 fiscal year (which ended September 30). But Jill Loftus, director of the Navy's sexual assault program (which includes the Marines), believes it isn't because sexual assaults themselves are going up.
"More likely, we have people who understand what sexual assault is," Loftus told the AP. It may also stem from new legislation that requires civilian review if commanding officers declined to prosecute a case, giving victims more incentive to come forward. That piece of legislation, signed into law by President Obama on Thursday, also makes it a crime to retaliate against victims who report an assault, reports USA Today.
This and other efforts within each branch of the military have leaders like Metzler believing that although things are not perfect, "we think all of this is having an effect," reports the AP.
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