False complaints of sexual abuse in the military are rising at a faster rate than overall reports of sexual assault, a trend that could harm combat readiness, analysts say.
Virtually all media attention on a Pentagon report last week focused on an increase in service members' claims of sexual abuse in an anonymous survey, but unmentioned were statistics showing that a significant percentage of such actually investigated cases were baseless.
From 2009 to 2012, the number of sexual abuse reports rose from 3,244 to 3,374 — a 4 percent increase.
During the same period, the number of what the Pentagon calls "unfounded allegations" based on completed investigations of those reports rose from 331 to 444 — a 35 percent increase.
In 2012, there were 2,661 completed investigations, meaning that the 444 false complaints accounted for about 17 percent of all closed cases last year. False reports accounted for about 13 percent of closed cases in 2009.
Robert Maginnis, a retired Army officer and analyst at the Family Research Council, is writing a book for Regnery Publishing Inc. about the Pentagon's push to put women in direct ground combat in the infantry, armor and special operations.
"In the course of conducting interviews with commanders, I heard time and again complaints about female service members making sex-related allegations which proved unfounded," Mr. Maginnis said. "Not only do some women abuse the truth, but it also robs their commanders from more important, mission-related tasks.
"Female service members told me that some women invite problems which lead men on and then result in advances the woman can't turn off. Too often, such female culpability leads to allegations of sexual contact, assault and then the women feign innocence."
The annual Pentagon report on sexual assault noted the numbers of false complaints but included no analysis. The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment.
Elaine Donnelly, who runs the Center for Military Readiness, said the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Office (SAPRO) is ignoring the problem of false reports.
"Unsubstantiated accusations remain a significant problem, but the SAPRO is doing nothing about it," Mrs. Donnelly said. "I went through both volumes and found no evidence of concern about the significant 17 percent of 'unfounded accusations.' Something should be done to reduce the numbers of false accusations, the first step being an admission that the problem exists."
The number of sex abuse reports has risen from 1,700 a decade ago to 3,374 last year.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have pushed male and female personnel into close living conditions at a sprawling network of bases.
The existence of unwanted and wanted sexual contact in the war zone is not disputed.
For example, a group of Army physicians in 2010 studied one brigade combat team deployed to Iraq in 2007.
The physicians' study, published in the Military Medicine journal, examined the number of soldiers who sustained disease or noncombat injuries. Of 4,122 soldiers, including 325 women in support roles, 1,324 had diseases or injuries that forced them to miss time or be evacuated.
"Females, compared with males, had a significantly increased incident-rate ratio for becoming a [disease or noncombat] casualty," the doctors found.
Of 47 female soldiers evacuated from the brigade and sent home, 35 — or 74 percent — were for "pregnancy-related issues."
Even before the wars, the Pentagon removed barriers across the board to women and took action to mix the sexes more closely. Men and women share dorms and barracks in boot camp and at the service academies, and deploy in close quarters on ships.
The integration promises to become even more intimate in coming years as the Pentagon places women into training for direct ground combat jobs.
"The latest SAPRO report confirms that problems of sexual assault against both men and women are getting worse, not better," Mrs. Donnelly said. "Pentagon leaders nevertheless are planning to extend these problems into the combat arms. Congress and the Pentagon first must do no harm. At a minimum, the Obama administration must not be allowed to extend complicated issues of sexual assault, which have increased by 129 percent since 2004, into direct ground combat infantry battalions."
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week announced several steps to eliminate assaults, including ordering commanders to conduct "visual inspections" of all workplaces to ensure they are "free from materials that create a degrading or offensive work environment."
The Air Force completed such an inspection last year after a female service member complained of persistent harassment.
In January, the Air Force reported the "health and welfare" inspection results:
"The Air Force found 631 instances of pornography (magazines, calendars, pictures, videos that intentionally displayed nudity or depicted acts of sexual activity); 3,987 instances of unprofessional material (discrimination, professional appearance, items specific to local military history such as patches, coins, heritage rooms, log books, song books, etc.); and 27,598 instances of inappropriate or offensive items (suggestive items, magazines, posters, pictures, calendars, vulgarity, graffiti). In total, 32,216 items were reported. Identified items were documented and either removed or destroyed."
Said Mr. Hagel: "We need cultural change where every service member is treated with dignity and respect, where all allegations of inappropriate behavior are treated with seriousness, where victims' privacy is protected, where bystanders are motivated to intervene, and where offenders know that they will be held accountable by strong and effective systems of justice."
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