- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 1, 2014

The number of reported sexual assaults in the military rose 50 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to a report released Thursday, signaling more people feel comfortable reporting attacks.

But the high number also left some lawmakers saying it’s proof that more needs to be done.

The Pentagon report found 5,061 reports of sexual assault in fiscal 2013, a 50 percent increase from the 3,374 reports in fiscal 2012. That’s a huge jump from previous years, when the reporting only increased by about 5 percent each year since 2006, the report found.

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Sen. Claire McCaskill said the numbers show the system is improving as more service members are willing to report purported crimes. The Missouri Democrat sponsored many of the military-justice reforms included in last year’s defense policy bill and recently lead a fight to keep prosecution authority within the chain of command.

“These numbers show concrete progress as our recent sweeping reforms continue to take root and more victims have the confidence in the system to come out of the shadows and report these crimes,” she said in a statement. “We know that the majority of survivors, both military and civilian, choose not to report their assaults — but this data suggests that the number of brave men and women in uniform choosing to pursue justice is increasing.”

The report said it’s unlikely the large increase represents an increase in crime rates, but there’s no data to back that up. In fiscal 2012, a Defense Department survey estimated there were 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact, but there’s no updated data for fiscal 2013. A survey will take place this year to update the data, the report said.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, however, said the report should “send chills down people’s spines.” The New York Democrat said the numbers show that while reporting has increased, the vast majority of people are still not reporting sexual assault in the military.

She said the report proves an even greater need for commanders to be stripped of their prosecutorial discretion, leaving the decision to unbiased military lawyers – an effort she failed to get through the Senate after facing opposition from Ms. McCaskill earlier this year.

“That is a system screaming for additional reform,” she said in a statement. “These shocking numbers should spur Congress to act and finally put these cases in the hands of trained legal professionals to fix a system that is failing our brave men and women in uniform.”

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