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Nation/World

January 12, 2013

Military assault scandal prompts hearings

HOUSTON — About 4 percent of female service members experience some form of sexual assault each year compared to 1 percent of male service members, according to information gathered for a report discussed yesterday by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

In fiscal year 2011, the Armed Services completed 2,353 investigations of reported sexual assaults, a “small fraction” of the total estimated sexual assaults, according to the report, which is still being compiled.

Of those cases investigated, fewer than a quarter, or about 489, were referred to court-martial, according to the report, and for those convicted of sexual assault, 78 percent served time in prison.

As part of their work, the commission also gathered testimony yesterday amid a widening sex scandal at a Central Texas Air Force base that has prompted congressional hearings later this month.

Philip D. Cave, a Washington-based military lawyer and retired Navy commander, testified that he’s seen military sexual assault cases where commanders have refused to assist the defense because they feared they would be punished.

“You lead to this lack of trust in the system,” Cave said.

Nancy Parrish, president of the Burlingame, Calif.-based victim advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, told the panel that between 2010 and 2011, commander-initiated action on sexual assault decreased by 23 percent.

“Victims will tell you there has been command influence, undue command influence when they come forward to report,” Parrish said. “They, the victims, are investigated. They are put in psych wards, on psychotropic drugs and investigated other than for the sexual assault.”

Parrish called for an audit, noting that sexual assaults are believed to far exceed official reports.

“That’s why we’re here today, because unpunished sexual assault in the military is an epidemic,” she said.

Maj. Gen. Gary Patton, director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, testified that military officials are attempting to address the problem, but that the recently reported numbers of sexual assaults were “unacceptable.”

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