Wednesday, February 25, 2004

At least 112 women in the military have reported being sexually assaulted by fellow service members in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past two years, military officials told the Senate yesterday.

U.S. Central Command is investigating the accusations.

“Why is there less public outrage when servicewomen suffer at the hands of fellow servicemen than at the [hands of the] enemy?” asked Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on personnel.

At least 86 sexual assault cases have been reported in the U.S. Army, 14 of which have been through the court-martial process, according to Gen. George W. Casey, Army vice chief of staff.

The Navy has had 12 cases, all of which reportedly happened in Bahrain. Seven are closed — in six of those cases the evidence didn’t support the charge. The other five are still under investigation, according to Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael G. Mullen.

The Marine Corps has had six reported incidents since September 11, according to Gen. William L. Nyland, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.

The Air Force has had eight cases, two of which implicated foreign nationals. Six Air Force members were accused, according to Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley.

Reported numbers may be low, according to Christine Hansen of the Miles Foundation, which works with victims of sexual violence in the military. Miss Hansen said her foundation knows of 68 cases of sexual assault in the military. Of those, just 11 have reported the incidents to military authorities.

Three weeks ago, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld called for an assessment of how sexual assaults are handled in the military. Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel David Chu said early results suggest the military must improve the treatment and protection of victims. The report is expected to be complete in about two months.

“I wonder, how many studies and task forces are going to be needed before we solve this problem?” said subcommittee Chairman Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, noting a similar study that was carried out a decade ago. “There appears to be systemic problems in dealing with victims.”

Also yesterday, the Pentagon released survey results on sexual harassment in the military, a study that took nearly two years to complete. The report says incidents of harassment and assault have declined over the past seven years, in some cases by half.

Between 1995 and 2002, sexual assault rates among servicewomen declined from 6 percent to 3 percent, according to the report. The rate for men was unchanged over the same period, at 1 percent. Junior-ranking enlisted women were most likely to be sexually assaulted, at a rate of about 5 percent.

The military has a checkered past on sexual assault. According to the Veteran’s Administration, 8 percent of the female 1991 Gulf War veterans reported attempted or sexual assault during their deployments. About a third were “challenged” by sexual harassment. That is a tenfold increase over the civilian rate during the same time period, according to data cited by Miss Hansen.

In 1992, the Army released statistics that indicated 26 women had reported rape or other sexual abuse during the Persian Gulf war.

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