Fighting sexual assault in military

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Fighting sexual assault in military

Just like in Korea, sexual assault in the military is a serious issue in the United States. The U.S. president has declared a nationwide war against sex crimes. At the U.S. Naval Academy graduation ceremony in May 2013, President Barack Obama said, “Those who commit sexual assault are not only committing a crime, they threaten the trust and discipline that make our military strong.” His speech came immediately after a report that military sexual assault cases are increasing by 40 percent every year. After the president’s speech, the secretary of defense personally initiated barrack reforms.

And the result of the year-long endeavor was recently revealed. According to a Defense Department report to the President Obama this month, the number of sexual assaults cases reported to the authorities in 2014 fiscal year was 5,983 cases, 8 percent more than 5,518 cases the previous year. It may be easy to conclude that the reform was not very effective considering the increase. However, experts say that though the statistics show an increase in reported cases, the actual number of sex crimes may have decreased. In another survey, one in four victims chose to file a report this year, in contrast to one in 10 two years ago. In a survey of current servicemen, the rate of female victims decreased by 1.8 percent in two years. It is estimated that the actual number of sexual assault cases has decreased considerably in the past year, from 26,000 cases in 2012 to 19,000 last year.

The Defense Department introduced various solutions last year and this year, creating an environment where victims can report cases more easily. A hotline was created, and free attorney services are provided. For the first time in history, a third party has been hired to investigate the situation within the military. Washington-based think tank Rand Corporation contacted 145,000 active-duty service members to study sexual assault in the military. It was risky to allow an external organization to investigate the military. Once a criminal case is confirmed, the accused person is reprimanded severely. A few months ago, an Army major general was demoted for delaying the investigation of a sex crime.

In a briefing, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said, “Overall, the data shows that while there have been indications of real progress, measurable progress over the last two years, with improvement in 10 of the 12 specific measures, including reduced prevalence and increased reporting, we still have a long way to go.” President Obama emphasized that the war against military sex crimes should be consistently and more intensely pursued, as one-time prescriptions for individual cases cannot reform military culture.

The national-level efforts in the United States show how difficult and urgent it is to prevent and reduce sex crimes in the military. While the situation is improving, nearly 20,000 sexual assaults occur every year. President Obama’s pledge for consistent and continued reform is especially meaningful. We need to contemplate our own reality and efforts.

The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 16, Page 38

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