MICHELE NORRIS, host:
For the past 20 years, The Miles Foundation has been tracking sexual assault and domestic violence within the armed services. The group is a private nonprofit that provides victims services and education. It also conducts research. And since 2004, the group has been reporting its findings to Congress.
Christine Hansen is executive director of The Miles Foundation. She joins us now. Miss Hansen, thanks for being with us.
Ms. CHRISTINE HANSEN (Executive Director, The Miles Foundation): Thank you for the invitation.
NORRIS: I understand the military's definition of sexual assault is in transition. But in brief, how does the military define that now?
Ms. HANSEN: They use the terminology rape. It must entail force and be without consent.
NORRIS: Now, you've been tabulating the number of reports of sexual assault in what's officially called CENTCOM AOR, or Area of Responsibility - that includes Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Kuwait, the Horn of Africa and a number of other countries in the region. How many reports have you received since 2002?
Ms. HANSEN: To date, we have received 976 reports of cases of sexual assault.
NORRIS: And it sounds like you're seeing a perpetual upward trend.
Ms. HANSEN: Yes, we are. The numbers from one quarter to the next have routinely increased. Generally speaking, they range anywhere between 10 to 15 percent between quarters.
NORRIS: Now, your numbers, how did they compare to the numbers that the Department of Defense has compiled and published?
Ms. HANSEN: Our numbers, particularly concerning Iraq and Afghanistan in that particular region or battlefield, are a bit higher than the Department of Defense. We believe there are several reasons for that, in that we provide private and confidential services as opposed to the type of services that are available within DOD at their services.
NORRIS: Whether we're talking about your numbers, the numbers compiled by The Miles Foundation or the numbers compiled by the Pentagon, do you think it really reflects what's going on in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Ms. HANSEN: Regrettably, sexual assault is one of the most under-recorded crimes in our nation and our society. We always put our numbers in the context of these are not finite numbers. We are well aware that our colleagues who work at various rape crisis centers, within the VA, the Department of Defense, may have other reports that we don't necessarily collect.
NORRIS: I want to turn from the numbers to the environment and the women that are actually coming forward and reporting these incidents. What are you actually hearing from some of the women who were reporting assaults?
Ms. HANSEN: Well, a number of different things. We are seeing women who are being gang-raped, meaning they have multiple assailants rather than one assailant. We are also seeing cases in which there are multiple victims for an assailant. Some may use the terminology a serial rapist. In addition to that, we're seeing some very significant patterns that continue to exist about the development of safety protocols, the conduct of investigation.
NORRIS: What happens to the alleged assailants in this case? Are they tried in criminal courts or in the military system of justice?
Ms. HANSEN: Generally speaking, the commander of that alleged assailant has a spectrum of responses when it comes to disciplinary action. Literally, it can be from a zero response to a criminal justice proceeding within the military known as a court-martial. We routinely have seen over the decade that the predominant response is that of administrative action. That may be a letter of reprimand within your personnel file, forfeiture of pay and allowances. We do not see that the predominant response is that of a criminal justice response leading to court-martial proceeding.
NORRIS: Now, this is interesting because the military's definition of sexual assault is characterized by, quote, "the use of force." And yet, you're saying that the military treats this an administrative matter?
Ms. HANSEN: Yes. And that's one of the reasons that we have advocated and Congress has enacted changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice - the rape statute, because the predominant type of sexual assault is what we would call acquaintance or date rape. In the military, we call it offender-known rape. So that it is not necessarily that stranger in the bushes with a knife who is the assailant.
NORRIS: Just curious about the women who come forward and report these cases. Do most of them stay in the military or leave?
Ms. HANSEN: It's actually a very individualized decision. Many try desperately to maintain their careers within the military. We have a number of our clients that have been sexually assaulted. I would say less than a third of them have been able to maintain their careers in the military to date.
NORRIS: Christine Hansen, thank you very much for talking with us.
Ms. HANSEN: Thank you.
NORRIS: Christine Hansen is the executive director of The Miles Foundation.