Sexual assaults occurred at an average of more than 70 per day in the United States military during 2012, according to an annual report released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Reports of sexual assault in the military rose during October 2011 through September 2012 by 6 percent from the prior year. A total of about 26,000 service members said they experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012, nearly 7,000 more than in 2010, when about 19,300 members of the military reported inappropriate sexual contact.
The report released Tuesday by Defense's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) follows the Sunday arrest of Lt. Col Jeffrey Krusinski, head of the Air Force SAPRO program, under allegations of sexual assault of a woman. Krusinski, arrested in Arlington, Va., has been officially removed from duty pending an investigation.
"We're all outraged and disgusted over these very troubling allegations," Hagel said in a Pentagon briefing Tuesday, announcing a SAPRO strategic plan for 2013 that aims to enhance commander accountability, improve response to victims, and assess the military justice system.
"We may very well be nearing a stage where the frequency of this crime and the perception there is tolerance of it could very well undermine [the mission]," Hagel warned. "That is unacceptable to me and the leaders of this institution, and it should be unacceptable to anyone associated with the U.S. military."
The incident also coincides with the Pentagon's high-profile effort to "reduce -- with a goal to eliminate -- sexual assault in the military," according to a congressional briefing on the sexual assault report early Tuesday.
Pentagon press secretary George Little emphasized the Pentagon's "zero tolerance" policy for sexual assault in a Monday release responding to Krusinski's arrest.
The annual report -- SAPRO's ninth -- compiles findings from the DOD FY12 Annual Report on Sexual Assault, the DOD Workplace & Gender Relations Surveys and the Centers for Disease Control's national sexual violence survey. The military defines unwanted sexual contact as sexual crimes prohibited by military law, from rape to abusive sexual contact.
Of the unrestricted reports of sexual assault in fiscal year 2012, 35 percent were for abusive and wrongful sexual contact, 28 percent were for aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault, and 27 percent were for rape. Unrestricted reports can be investigated under the military justice process.
According to Tuesday's report, of 1,714 alleged military offenders, commanders took action on 1,124, or 66 percent. This includes 594 cases in which the military initiated court martial proceedings, barely more than the 590 cases in which it was determined that command action was not possible or was declined altogether. For 388 of these, the DOD found "insufficient evidence of a crime to prosecute or unfounded;" for 196 cases, "victims declined to participate in justice system."
Commanders determined sufficient evidence to take action against 66 percent, an increase from 57 percent in fiscal year 2009, according to the DOD. Of those whose court-martials wrapped up in FY 2012, 79 percent were convicted on at least one charge, while 25 percent were allowed a discharge or resignation instead of court-martial.
Only 3,374 cases of the estimated 26,000 sexual assaults were reported -- a reporting rate of just under 13 percent for fiscal year 2012 for offenses ranging from rape to abusive sexual contact. In fiscal year 2011, the military received 3,192 such reports.
While Hagel noted that increased reports could indicate greater confidence in the military justice system, Maj. Gen. Gary Patton, director of SAPRO, said in the announcement of the report Tuesday afternoon that underreporting remains a major impediment to addressing the issue.
"It's very clear that we have more work to do," he said. "We have to eliminate this threat to the safety of our men and women in uniform."
Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), co-chair of the House Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, said the startling statistics from the report, in conjunction with Krusinski's arrest, indicate that there has been no progress on the issue of military sexual assault.
"The numbers show that sexual assaults are actually increasing, not decreasing, at a time when the leadership in Congress has made it a significant issue," Turner told The Huffington Post Tuesday. "The arrest of the SAPRO officer is an absolute personal failure as well as a professional failure, and raises concerns about, is this irony, or just reflective of a significant cultural issue?"
Of the victims who did report an assault in FY 2012, Turner noted, some 62 percent felt they were revictimized or retaliated against for reporting their assault.
"When you have a culture that tries to hide the crime, it absolutely encourages it," he said.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) introduced the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act of 2013 Tuesday afternoon. The bill aims to provide victims of sexual assault with a Special Victims' Counsel, expand the authority of SAPRO so that it can provide better oversight, and refer sexual assault cases to the general court martial level.
“When our best and our brightest put on a uniform and join the United States Armed Forces, they do so with the understanding that they will sacrifice much in the name of defending our country and its people," Murray said in a statement sent to The Huffington Post. "However, it’s unconscionable to think that entertaining unwanted sexual contact from within the ranks is now part of that equation.”
UPDATE: 4:36 p.m. -- This story has been updated to reflect further details from the report and its release Tuesday.
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'Full Battle Rattle'
Rebekah Havrilla, out on patrol in Afghanistan. The former Army sergeant and Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialist enlisted in 2004, seeking out job training, education, "some patriotic element" after 9/11 and a way out of South Carolina. "I went in with the idea of making a career out of it," she says. "I thought, I can't be Special Forces, I can't do Rangers because I don't have a penis -- closest thing I can get to actually doing that type of job is EOD [Explosive Ordnance Disposal]."
Havrilla crouches in the remnants of a "demolition shot" she and her team did of a "bunch of captured enemy munitions" outside of Forward Operating Base Gardez, in Afghanistan. "It's a very male dominated, hypermasculine environment, so you've got to be the tomboy, kind of, 'let's play cowboys and indians. And soldiers,'" she says. But to some, this also meant persistent sexual harassment and even assault.
Havrilla says intense nightmares kept her from sleep, night after night, after she got back from Afghanistan -- until recently, when she moved to New York. Though Havrilla says that at first she suffered from the kind of hyper-vigilance described by fellow combat veterans in urban settings, she loves the city -- namely because it is so different than where she grew up, in a conservative Christian family in rural South Carolina. She is getting her Masters and working for the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN).
An early photo of Tia Christopher, who joined the Navy at age 18 in 2000 and was out just under a year later, honorably discharged with a "personality disorder."
Tia Christopher and her friend Aston Tedford at a women veterans retreat in Arizona several years ago. Christopher now works as an advocate for veterans, in particular victims of MSA, and has written guidance on the subject.
Tia Christopher in a favorite photo.
'I'm Beautiful Despite The Flames'
Tia Christopher sent this photo of her recently completed tattoo Friday, Sept. 28. Written in Arabic, she says "her motto" -- which covers scars from her assault -- more literally translates: "Despite the flames that devoured my flesh, I am still beautiful."
Claire Russo in a childhood photo.
Claire & Coconut
Claire Russo pictured at 10 years old, in 1989 with "Coconut." Russo grew up near Washington, D.C., and worked on the Hill. "I was sort of -- well no, a really privileged middle-class kid," she says. "I was just fascinated with the debate, and the decisions the government was making … And I remember a very strong desire to serve."
Claire Russo Salutes Her Cousin
Claire Russo in 2004 at Quantico, right after being commissioned, saluting her cousin Tom Winkle, a Navy lieutenant and pilot. Russo lived with Winkle in San Diego, and was with him the night of her assault, at the Marine Corps Ball. It was Winkle that reported Russo's assault; she did not want to report, being afraid for her career.
Claire Russo (right) with her roommate at The Basic School in Quantico, Va., after finishing a field exercise. Russo says that one of the 30 females in the class of 180 was raped in the barracks while she was at The Basic School.
Claire Russo in a courtyard in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2006, when she served as the targeting officer for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. She deployed two weeks after testifying at the discharge hearing of the serviceman who raped her, Douglas Alan Dowson -- he was already in prison.
'Citizen Of Courage'
Claire Russo (front) salutes the flag during the national anthem, before she was given the "Citizen of Courage" award from the San Diego District Attorney's office in 2006. Behind her is San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and First Marine Expeditionary Force (IMEF) Commanding General John Sattler, who Russo says is the "only commander to ever apologize to me for what I experienced."
Russo And San Diego DAs
Deputy District Attorney Gretchen Means, Claire Russo and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, after Russo received the "Citizens of Courage" award from the San Diego District Attorney's office at Camp Pendleton in 2006.
Down The Aisle
Claire Russo at her wedding to Josh Russo. Lt. Josh Russo was stationed at Camp Pendleton, some 40 miles north, at the time of Russo's assault in 2004. He remains in the military.
Claire And Josh Russo
Claire and Josh Russo on their wedding day, with friends from the Marines.
Russo And Her Motorcycle
"Me on my Russian Minsk 120 cc dirt bike, in Laos. This was one day on an 8 month trip/honeymoon Josh and I took. We rode motorcylces through SE Asia, Australia and went to Africa," Russo describes in a recent email.
Claire Russo in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border, on a mission with the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Army Paratroopers. "I spoke with the district governor that day about how we could help to get a woman working for the Ministry of Womens Affairs working in his district," Russo writes.
Claire, Josh And Genevieve Russo In Paris
Claire Russo and her husband, Josh Russo, and their baby Genevieve, here four weeks old, in Paris. Josh serves in the U.S. Army.
"My 4 week old daughter Genevieve and I in front of a painting of Saint Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris, who saved the city from the Huns," Russo writes.
Marti Ribeiro In Front Of Village
Marti Ribeiro served with the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines over eight years as a combat correspondent.
As a combat correspondent, Marti Ribeiro accompanied medical convoys to remote areas without local doctors. Such clinics were set up in specific locations, so the locals needed significant advance warning of their arrival. When one such convoy came under attack, Ribeiro returned fire, earning her a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/14/women-at-war-unseen_n_1498291.html#slide=964342">Combat Action Badge</a>, though as a female, she officially should not have been in a position to take fire.
'Afghan Girls On Rooftop'
A photograph of Afghan girls, taken by Marti Ribeiro during her deployment.
Ribeiro In 2006
Marti Ribeiro and an Afghan boy in 2006.
'Soaked To The Bone And Miserable'
Marti Ribeiro titles this photo -- taken in Afghanistan in 2006 -- as "soaked to the bone and miserable."
Marti Ribeiro And Her Daughter Bela
Marti Ribeiro and her daughter, Bela, in San Antonio, Texas.