Spohn cautioned that comparing the two sectors is a dicey exercise.
State and local prosecutors typically only file charges in cases they have a solid chance of winning. Conversely, the military may be able to secure at least mild punishment, such as a reduction in rank or loss of pay, in a weaker case because they have more options to penalize.
The military leadership's time to solve the crisis on its own has run out, according to Pentagon critics. A string of episodes in which senior officers were caught behaving badly is further proof that serious crimes should be dealt with outside the chain of command, they say.
"There is a perception out there right now that the military is out of control," said K. Denise Rucker Krepp, a former Coast Guard officer and attorney. "You are not going to attract the best and the brightest if people believe that if you go into the military you are going to be sexually assaulted."
Mark Russell, a psychologist and former Navy commander who was stationed in Japan, said putting commanders in charge of deciding how to proceed with sex abuse allegations can conflict with the unit's mission.
"The mission trumps every other aspect of military life, including sometimes, legal justice and moral standing," wrote Russell, now a professor at Antioch University in Seattle, in an email. "A climate emerges, whereby individuals may feel they can act with impunity, especially in the case ... where it may be 'he said, she said,' with 'good workers' often given the benefit of the doubt."
Many of the Japan cases involved an accuser who said he or she was sexually abused while too drunk to consent, or even unconscious. That makes it all the more difficult to determine whether a crime occurred.
"Weakness is a great fear in the military and something to be avoided," Russell wrote. "Therefore, women (or men) who go out drinking and are raped are often viewed as culpable for having been 'weak and vulnerable.'"