The Army is pushing more women closer to the front lines and in closer contact with men even as the number of sexual attacks on female soldiers has surged during the past six years.
Army figures show that reports of violent sex crimes have nearly doubled, from 665 in 2006 to 1,313 last year.
Nearly all the victims were women. Most were young soldiers moving from one post to another, a time when they were most vulnerable, according to “Generating Health and Discipline in the Force,” a comprehensive study into the Army’s mind and body.
“This chilling trend suggests that the increase in offenses going forward will likely continue unless directly mitigated by other factors,” the report says.
Military analysts now are asking what this “chilling trend” means for the future force.
The Pentagon announced this year that it is opening 14,000 more combat support jobs below the brigade level to women. Female troops make up 14 percent of the 570,000-member active force.
Previous policy barred women from “co-locating” with direct land combat units, such as infantry and armor, below a brigade combat team, the Army’s central fighting unit above battalions, companies and platoons.
The policy change means more Army women will be serving in smaller units outside large bases, in close quarters with men on or near the battlefield.
Elaine Donnelly, a social conservative who heads the Center for Military Readiness, views the 14,000 openings, a small percentage of jobs still off-limits to women, as the Obama administration’s strategy to one day hand direct land combat roles to women.
She said the stark sex-abuse numbers give a reason why the Army should not have moved women to the battalion level and noted the report’s findings that violent sex crimes in the active-duty Army soared 97 percent and that 95 percent of the victims were women.
“Instead of implementing misguided policies that are based on ‘Amazon’ myths, Pentagon officials need to face up to reality,” Mrs. Donnelly said. “These disturbing numbers and trend lines reflect actual experience, not social theories about human perfection.
“The Army’s own analysis of risk factors contributing to this ‘chilling trend’ suggest that such problems would be worsened, not improved, if women are assigned to direct ground combat infantry battalions.”
On the other end of the political spectrum are women’s advocates calling for an end to all military occupational barriers as a way to put women on a level playing field and reduce sexual harassment and abuse.
“The services must remove institutional barriers,” said the 2011 Military Leadership Diversity Commission. “An important step in this direction is that [the Department of Defense] and the services eliminate combat exclusion policies for women.”
The Army study, one of its most extensive health reviews ever, developed a timeline for sexual assaults. It showed the majority of attacks have occurred as Army women, ages 18 to 22, were moving into new assignments.
“It is essential that commanders sponsor and quickly integrate young female soldiers into a formal chain of command to reduce potential sex crime victimization,” the report said.
Principles, prevention, discipline
The Army also reports another troubling trend: More than a quarter of 4,000 complaints about violent sex crimes in the past six years were proved to be unfounded. Soldiers are making false allegations as a way to cover up consensual sex or exact retribution for some perceived betrayal.
Army officials say they are tackling the sex-offense problem head-on.
“It goes without saying that sexual harassment and assault are unacceptable behaviors and are not in keeping with the long-standing need for good order and discipline of the Army,” said George Wright, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon. “We aim to bring the full weight of the Uniform Code of Military Justice on those who violate those principles.”
Some of the steps the Army has taken:
• Instituting the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, which includes the “I. A.M. Strong” campaign to encourage soldiers to discourage abuse by their peers and to report bad behavior.
• Expanding training at boot camp, at officer basic training, at drill sergeant school and at West Point.
• Requiring participation in a self-study called “Team Bound,” described as “an interactive, multiple-scenario video in which soldiers become the lead character and must make choices in realistic situations dealing with sexual harassment and sexual assault.”
Women have come to the forefront in the war on terrorism by exchanging fire with the enemy on police raids and guarding convoys. Like men, they have been susceptible to buried explosives, gunshots and mortar fire in a counterinsurgency war that has no front lines. In Iraq and Afghanistan, 144 female troops have been killed.
“Female soldiers have served with great honor, distinction and valor, and some with great sacrifice, over the last decade,” Mr. Wright said.