Even when military authorities agreed a crime had been committed, the suspect was unlikely to serve time.
Nearly two-thirds of 244 service members whose punishments were detailed in the records were not incarcerated. Instead they were fined, demoted, restricted to their bases or removed from the military. In more than 30 cases, a letter of reprimand was the only punishment.
Among the other findings:
—The Marines were far more likely than other branches to send offenders to prison, with 53 prison sentences out of 270 cases. By contrast, of the Navy's 203 cases, more than 70 were court-martialed or punished in some way. Only 15 were sentenced to time behind bars.
—The Air Force was the most lenient. Of 124 sex crimes, the only punishment for 21 offenders was a letter of reprimand.
—Victims increasingly declined to cooperate with investigators or recanted, a sign they may have been losing confidence in the system. In 2006, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which handles the Navy and Marine Corps, reported 13 such cases; in 2012, it was 28.
Taken together, the sex crime cases from Japan, home to the largest number of U.S. military personnel based overseas, illustrate how far military leaders have to go to reverse a spiraling number of sexual assault reports.
In one case, a woman alleged that a sailor raped her. Later, she confronted him in a recorded conversation. She accused him of pushing her down "for sex purposes," after which he apologized for hurting her "in that way."
An Article 32 hearing, the military's version of a grand jury, recommended a court-martial on rape charges, but the commanding officer said no. The charges were dropped.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who leads the Senate Armed Services' personnel subcommittee, said the records are "disturbing evidence" that there are commanders who refuse to prosecute sexual assault cases.