The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

July 14, 2013

Military works to change culture to combat rape

(Continued)

Ellison said the misguided thinking is, "If we treat all of the soldiers like criminals, they can't commit crimes."

"Big Brother would be proud," he wrote.

Military officials defended the actions, given the rise in cases. The Pentagon report found a 6 percent increase in reported sexual assaults, or 3,374 cases, in fiscal year 2012 over the previous year. But officials believe the problem is far worse. Based on that number and anonymous surveys of service members, the Pentagon estimated the number of victims may be as high as 26,000.

More people are stepping forward after word spread about resources for victims, including a 24-hour hotline and expedited transfers from a unit after an abuse is reported. But the crime is still widely underreported because of fear of retaliation and other reasons, Pentagon officials said.

The Pentagon established its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program eight years ago with the goal of reducing attacks through annual training and campaigns to encourage more reporting by victims. Since then, the number of reported cases has risen by 98 percent — which critics say shows the need for judicial reform.

"Until there are structural changes, you're not going to train your way out of this epidemic," said Brian Purchia of Protect Our Defenders, a nonprofit that helps military sexual assault victims. "There needs to be actual punishment."

A sweeping defense bill approved by the U.S. House in June would impose new punishments, including requiring a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison for military personnel convicted of rape or sexual assault. The bill also would strip military commanders of the power to overturn convictions in those cases. The Senate is expected to take up the issue this fall.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman, said Hagel has not ruled out any remedies but that "the key to preventing sexual assaults ... will be our commanders" and the standards they set.

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