WASHINGTON (CN) – Members of a task force on sexual agression in the military told lawmakers Wednesday that the military’s sexual assault office should be placed under Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ command and that it should do more to help males, who could make up half the sexual assault victims in the military.
The analysis, released in December, seeks to help the 6.8 percent of military women and 1.8 percent of military men who reported that they had experienced unwanted sexual contact during the prior year, and many more who do not come forward.
Of the roughly 1.4 million active-duty military personnel, 2,530 women reported sexual assault last year, as did 220 men.
Ninety-four percent of women and almost half of men who reported being assaulted said the aggressor was a man.
The Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services began the study in 2008, after legislation in 2005 called for an analysis into sexual assault in the armed forces.
Brigadier General Sharon Dunbar, co-chair of the task force, presented the report to the House Military Personnel Subcommittee. She said the military is too geared towards treating sexual assault of women, without giving adequate attention to male victims. The report says that the military programs mirror those for civilians – where 5 to 10 percent of civilian rape victims are males – and don’t take into account that men make up 85 percent of the military.
The proportion suggests that the numbers of male and female assault victims are roughly equivalent in the military, the report says.
“This focus on female victims in a predominantly male environment makes it all the more difficult for male sexual assault victims to seek assistance,” the report reads, and said that while female reporting is “small,” male reporting is “infinitesimal.”
Men responding to the study said most often that they would be afraid their masculinity would be called into question if they reported that they were the victims of sexual assault. Women said mostly that they feared the social consequences of reporting.
Putting the Deputy Secretary of Defense – currently William Lynn III – in direct control of the Sexual Control and Response Office for at least a year would expose the program to funding needed to expand it for men and for preventative services.
“They’re not designed for that kind of oversight,” Chair Susan Davis, a California Democrat, said, seeming to object.
But Dunbar noted that staffing for the program is mostly geared towards response to sexual assault, and that it would need funds to expand into more prevention.
And with the frequency of joint operations on the rise, Louis Iasiello, co-chair of the task force, added that such a restructuring would standardize efforts against sexual assault among the different military branches, which have all tackled sexual assault in different ways. “We really would like to see a strategic leadership role,” he said.
The study noted that while sexual assault is discussed at higher levels in the military, commanders need to address sexual assault more openly with their troops, to reinforce a stance of no tolerance and prevent assault.