Report: Sexual Assault On The Rise In The U.S. Military

The Pentagon reported on Tuesday that reports of sexual assault increased significantly last year. That's despite intensive efforts to combat the problem. The numbers could indicate that victims are more comfortable coming forward. But sexual assault advocates say it's a sign that the military's approach is not working. Larry Abramson speaks with Robert Siegel about the new report.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Sexual assault is on the rise in the U.S. military. The Pentagon has released new numbers showing a growing number of women who report being victimized while in uniform. And today President Obama said enough is enough.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: For those who are in uniform, who've experienced sexual assault, I want them to hear directly from their commander-in-chief that I've got their backs, I will support them, and we're not going to tolerate this stuff. And there will be accountability.

SIEGEL: The president was speaking at the White House. Joining me now to talk about the issue is NPR's Larry Abramson. And, Larry, first, the numbers. They're higher. What else do they tell us about the problem of sexual assault in the military?

LARRY ABRAMSON, BYLINE: Right, Robert. Well, the Pentagon report says that more than 6 percent of all women in the military were assaulted sexually in 2012. And that number has risen from 5 percent just two years ago, so that's the troubling trend.

Now, this is a number of victims who actually came forward and said: I've been attacked. But when the Pentagon does anonymous surveys and statistical analysis, they come up with a much higher number. And that number, Robert, has jumped by 30 percent over that same time period.

The Pentagon is very worried about this trend. It undercuts the chain of command. It says that leaders in the military are not protecting the force from attack from within. And it's something that they say could undermine the effectiveness of the Armed Forces.

SIEGEL: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has promised to tackle the problem, as did his predecessor, Leon Panetta. Does this report show that their efforts aren't working?

ABRAMSON: Well, the only solace the Pentagon can take right now is the fact that more people are coming forward and doing the equivalent of pressing charges against their attackers. The number of reports of assault could be a sign that people feel there's more openness. They won't ruin their career if they bring one of their reports. And that's what Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said today.

But the fact that these anonymous surveys that go out still show increases indicates that there is a problem, that they're not doing what they say they want to do. Members of Congress were outraged today. They say that military law needs to be rewritten and that the issue needs to basically be given to a kind of special enforcement unit or take some other more drastic steps that would require congressional legislation.

The military understandably is very reluctant to do that sort of thing because it would say that they basically don't trust their own commanders to handle this problem.

SIEGEL: This weekend, Larry, we learned of the arrest of an officer in the Sexual Assault Response Office for the Air Force. Tell us about the arrest of that Air Force officer. Who is he?

ABRAMSON: Right. His name is Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski. He's 41. And he was chief of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response branch of the Air Force. So you think this guy would have been screened well enough to rule out this kind of behavior. But in fact, Sunday night, he was arrested by Arlington, Virginia, police. He apparently attacked a female civilian in a parking lot after a night of drinking. And he was arrested and faces arraignment later this week.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and top Air Force officials said today that they're outraged, that they're disgusted, and Krusinski was swiftly removed from his post. We heard a lot about this from Congress today in hearings that the members of Congress were also outraged.

It's not really clear what this one arrest says about the entire process. But, of course, it's a very embarrassing moment at time when the military is trying to show Congress and the public that you can trust us. We will take care of your sons and daughters internally.

SIEGEL: Larry, obviously, the Armed Forces hold themselves to a higher standard of conduct than the population at large. There is a chain of command and there are those codes that people follow. Do we know whether the incidence of sexual assault is any greater in the military or less than it is in the country at large?

ABRAMSON: No, we don't know that for sure, Robert. And the chief of the Air Force said it today in a congressional hearing. They don't have the numbers for that out. It's very difficult to compare different populations and come up with that assertion.

SIEGEL: Thank you. NPR's Larry Abramson.

ABRAMSON: Thank you.

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