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When The Battle Comes Home: Victims no more

Source URL: http://jacksonville.com/opinion/editorials/2010-05-14/story/when-battle-comes-home-victims-no-more

Last of three parts

Being vulnerable to enemy attack is a fact of life in the military.

But being victimized by your own troops? It’s a sad fact of life, as well, one that is just now receiving the attention it deserves.

“A woman in the military is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq,” Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said at a congressional hearing, reported in The New York Times.

In fiscal year 2009, there were 3,230 cases of alleged sexual assault involving military service members as either victims or subjects, an increase of 11 percent from the previous year, the Department of Defense reported.

That increase is portrayed as a positive, because so many cases go unreported.

As Time magazine reports, 80 percent of the assaults are unreported. And close to one-third of women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan were raped or assaulted.

There is reason for concern, reports Time:

– Only 8 percent of cases end in prosecution vs. 40 percent for civilians arrested for sexual abuse.

– Of those convicted for such crimes, incredibly, 80 percent are honorably discharged.

Taking action

The military needs to reduce the stigma attached to reporting sexual assault, and ensure that those reporting it do not hurt their military career.

Assurances that clearances will not be affected have already been made if someone has mental health counseling.

One way to avoid fears of reporting is to set up a confidential option.

Victims are concerned that their careers will be hurt if they report assaults.

Restricted reporting is available for military personnel of the armed forces and Coast Guard.

Victims of sexual assault may receive medical care and counseling without notifying command or law enforcement.

A portion of these victims eventually come forward, but it is their option.

Unrestricted reporting triggers the help of a victim advocate.

Details will be released only to personnel with a need to know. The victim advocate helps keep the victim informed of the progress of the investigation.

Men in the military are even less likely to report sexual assault, and about 10 percent of the victims are men, The New York Times reports.

GAO report

In reviews of the military’s programs, the Governmental Accountability Office noted progress since a 2008 report and the need for improvement in key areas.

Under progress needed, the Department of Defense cannot assess training programs because there are not sufficient benchmarks. That’s an essential metric.

Nor can the Defense Department analyze trends because data have not been standardized.

One of the positives is the Navy’s establishment of a sexual assault prevention and response office that reports to the secretary of the Navy.

The nation has a responsibility to provide the services to victims of assault in the military.

This epidemic of attacks must be stopped.

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