Sex assault cases in US military persist during Covid lockdown

By: AFP      Published: 02:54 PM, 14 May, 2021
Sex assault cases in US military
Representative image.

The number of reported US military sexual assault cases stayed at a high level during last year's Covid-19 lockdown, but did not increase, according a Pentagon report Thursday.

The annual report by the Defense Department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) recorded 7,816 sexual assault complaints in 2020, a slight fall from the record 7,825 of 2019.

The stabilization came after years of steady increases, three percent in 2019 and 13 percent the previous year.

In 220 the Navy and Marine Corps both saw increases while reported assaults fell in the Air Force and Army.

SAPRO says that reported assaults fall far short of actual assaults, sometimes by 75 percent, though it would not make such an estimate for last year because of the unknown impact of coronavirus lockdowns and safeguards.

Nevertheless, it said, "Sexual assault is an underreported crime among both the civilian and military populations.

"The number of individuals who report the crime to law enforcement falls far short of the number of individuals who have likely experienced the crime."

The number of reported rape cases fell in 2020 to 13 percent of the total from 15 percent in 2019. Thirty-seven percent of the cases were aggravated sexual assault, slightly up from the prior year, and 43 percent were classified as abusive sexual contact, slight lower.

According to the report, based on investigations carried out last year, 81 percent of the victims were women and 19 percent men. As for the perpetrators, 80 percent were men, five percent women and 15 percent unknown or the information was not available for the report.

Seventy percent of victims were 24 years old or younger, and three-quarters of both victims and perpetrators were in the low and middle enlisted ranks.  

But a disproportionate number of perpetrators were in the middle and upper enlisted sergeant ranks.

The report comes as the new Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has ordered an independent commission to propose ways to decrease the level of sexual assault. 

A key early finding, according to reports, is to remove reporting and handling of assault cases from the standard military chain of command.

"We, the chain of command, we the generals, the colonels, the captains and so on, we have lost the trust and confidence of those subordinates in our ability to deal with sexual assault," Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley told reporters last week. "So we need to make a change."