Outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently reported on the efforts his department has made against sexual assault within the ranks of the military. A year ago, President Obama directed Hagel to conduct a full review of progress being made, and while Hagel reported a decrease of twenty-five percent in the prevalence of sexual assault, he said "[t]here’s much more to be done."
One area of progress Hagel cited was simply in the reporting of such assaults, which he said has increased by 50 percent in just a year. He said it is believed now that one in four assaults are reported, whereas two years ago it was one in ten. The statistics are based on surveys taken throughout the military.
The improvements are due, at least in part, Hagel believes, from increased confidence victims now have in the ability of the military to deal with these crimes. "Compared to 2010," Hagel said, "because more survivors participated in the justice system than ever before, we’ve been able to hold more perpetrators accountable."
Another factor may be the sheer number of personnel the Pentagon now has committed to dealing with the problem. "We now have over 1,000 full-time certified response coordinators and victim advocates," Hagel revealed at the press conference, "and over 17,000 volunteer personnel ready to assist survivors."
To confirm Hagel's statement, an email inquiry was sent to the defense department asking if Hagel's statement meant that these 1,000 response coordinators literally work full time on sexual assault matters as opposed to combining this work with other duties. Laura Seal, a DoD spokesperson replied, "The answer to your questions is: Yes. In addition, more than 22,000 Sexual Assault Response Coordinators and Sexual Assault Response Victim Advocates have been certified in a process administered by the National Organization for Victim Assistance. These [additional 22,000] Coordinators and Advocates do not work on the issue on a full time basis." A followup email seeking explanation for the discrepancy between the 17,000 and 22,000 figures was not returned.
With 1.4 million personnel on active duty and another 718,000 civilians working for the defense department, the 23,000 response coordinators/victim advocates comes to one for every 91 members of the department.
Major General Jeffrey Snow, who addressed the press with Secretary Hagel, stressed that while sexual assault reports have increased, sexual assault and other forms of unwanted sexual contact in the military are actually on the decline, saying that "[r]ates of unwanted sexual contact are down significantly for both men and women from levels seen in 2006." Using available data, Snow said "we estimate that about 19,000 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2014."
Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.