Military criminal investigators received 1,700 reports of sexual assault in 2004 involving at least one member of the military, the Pentagon said Friday.
This includes cases in which a service member was either an alleged assailant or a victim. It is the first year the military has tracked this particular statistic, a move resulting from sexual assault scandals at the Air Force Academy and among deployed troops overseas.
But one part of this number that has been tracked in the past — the number of military members claiming they were victims of assault — showed a marked increase over previous years.
In 2004, 1,275 cases involved at least one member of the military saying he or she was a victim of sexual assault. That's up from 1,012 in 2003 and 901 in 2002.
This would suggest acts of sexual assault against military personnel are on the rise. But a military spokesman instead attributed the increase to increased awareness in the military about sexual assault issues, so service members feel more comfortable coming forward to report the crime.
"We have focused our efforts trying to encourage service members to come forward," Lt. Col. Joe Richard said. "The environment has changed."
Still, Richard noted that many sexual assaults go unreported in both the military and civilian world. This suggests the actual number of assaults is higher. These assaults took place in a population of 1.5 million active-duty and mobilized National Guard and reserve personnel.
The report shows "that there is an ongoing problem of sexual assault within the military," said Anita Sanchez, spokeswoman for the Miles Foundation advocacy group for victims of military violence.
Some of the 1,700 cases involve more than one assailant or more than one victim. Of those cases:
The military defines sexual assault in this context as attempted or actual rape, nonconsensual sodomy and indecent assault, a category that includes unwanted sexual touching.
Investigations and adjudication of the cases of 1,022 alleged assailants were completed. Other cases were still open at the end of 2004, the end of the period that the report covers.
In the rest, the assailant was not identified and the case was closed. The vast majority of cases involved a man allegedly assaulting a woman.
Sanchez said the Miles Foundation is concerned that "the adjudication ... continues to be predominantly nonjudicial punishment" even though sexual assault is a crime. She said this leads to a lack of responsibility for notifying either the military or civilian community of the presence of sex offenders.
This year, the military has pledged greater confidentiality to victims of sexual assault who come forward. It has also expanded training and standardized policies in dealing with an alleged assault.
By John J. Lumpkin