WASHINGTON — Sexual assault is a long-term problem for the military, and it will take time for military efforts to combat it, the director of the Defense Department’s sexual assault prevention and response office said.
“We are not satisfied with where we are at today,” said Army Maj. Gen. Gary Patton in an interview before the release to Congress of the Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military.
“This annual report shows that we have a serious problem with sexual assault in our military,” Patton said. “It’s a problem we also know to be prevalent and persistent in our American society. In the military, though, we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard.”
Combating the problem will require a culture change in the military, the general said.
“Current programs and training are laying the foundation for the culture change required to eradicate sexual assault from the military,” he added.
The report to Congress gathers data from the services and the results of a confidential survey of active and reserve-component service members. The surveys give numbers for the prevalence of sexual assaults in the military.
The prevalence of unwanted sexual contact has increased for active-duty women, the report shows, but has remained unchanged for active-duty men and reserve-component women and men. Unwanted sexual contact includes the crimes of rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy and abusive and aggravated sexual contact, Patton said.
Overall, there were 3,374 reports of sexual assault involving service members as either victims or perpetrators in fiscal 2012.
“This represents a 6 percent increase from fiscal 2011,” Patton said. “Of these reports, 816 were restricted reports — meaning these remain confidential.”
But buried in that number is a positive indicator, Patton said.
“The number of restricted reports this last year that converted to unrestricted reports increased from 14 percent to 17 percent in fiscal 2012,” he said. “We see this as a leading indication of victim confidence.”
Sexual assault prevention and response is not a static program, he said, noting that it has changed and will continue to change and evolve.
“There are improvements and new initiatives in place,” Patton said. “We have to continue to assess ourselves and strive to improve.”
Sexual assault is an under-reported crime, and more victims coming forward means that more investigations and more accountability for offenders, he said.
“There is increased awareness, and we’ve got a lot of new programs in place or coming on line,” he said. “There is much more for us to do.”