WASHINGTON — In a scathing critique of the Defense Department’s efforts to curb sexual assaults, a U.S. senator warned Monday that the true scope of sex-related violence in the military communities is “vastly underreported” and that victims continue to struggle for justice.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said in a report that the Pentagon refused to provide her with all the information she requested about sexual assaults at several major bases. The material she did receive revealed that the spouses of service members and civilian women who live or work near military facilities are especially vulnerable to being sexually assaulted.
Yet they “remain in the shadows” because neither is counted in Defense Department surveys to determine the prevalence of sexual assaults, the report said. “I don’t think the military is being honest about the problem,” Gillibrand said in an interview.
The senator said her analysis of 107 sexual assault cases found punishments that were too lenient and the word of the alleged assailant was more likely to be believed than the victim. Less than a quarter of the cases went to trial and just 11 resulted in conviction for a sex crime. Female civilians were the victims in more than half the cases, said Gillibrand, an outspoken advocate for an overhaul of the military justice system.