At the end of May many people honor Memorial Day and reflect on the memories of fallen soldiers, military veterans’ and active duty service members. This holiday offers a chance to focus on an ongoing struggle to seek justice for survivors of sexual assault who serve in the military. Although the armed forces are improving how they address concerns of women and men who report sexual assault, there continues to be thousands of victims.
The Department of Defense (DOD) did not begin tracking statistics related to sexual assault until 2006. In 2014, there were 4,768 reports made by service members representing a 16 percent increase of sexual violence. This may be due to more women coming forward, but it shows the scope of this terrible problem. Additionally, this does not include women too frightened to come forward and report violence.
This month the DOD released a bi-annual Workplace and Gender Relations Survey, which stated “8,600 service women were sexually assaulted in 2016, compared to 9,600 in 2014,” reflects only a small change over two years.
Another unfortunate statistic in the Survey shows that “58% of women who reported a sexual assault indicated that they experienced retaliation,” and for those cases reported in 2016 only 124 of over four thousand cases resulted in a conviction.” We can and must do more to ensure the safety and protect women who are giving so much to our country.
We can and must do more to ensure the safety and protect women who are giving so much to our country.
We can improve service members’ access to justice by ensuring that the prosecution and disposition of criminal offenses within the military are decided outside of the service because military commanders currently decide how charges are pursued and resolved.
Fortunately, there has been an increase in funding and resources for training and counseling services. The reporting for cases of sexual assault has gone up as military commanders are being given the tools to fight these crimes and the victims are being given adequate legal representation. These efforts should continue to address cultural barriers that make it difficult for people to report and the bureaucratic obstacles to seeking restorative or criminal justice.
There should be mandatory annual training for staff officers and counselors who deal with sexual assault and rape victims. Every service member should also be required to take a full course on sexual assault prevention and be educated on the repercussions for violating a fellow soldier. Sadly, too many lives have been lost as a result of the trauma caused by surviving sexual assault. Families of survivors often question whether suicide or accidental deaths of their loved ones were because they had reported an assault or were in fact related to an assault. We have the ability to end this suffering and cannot continue to ignore the dangers faced in many aspects of joining the military.
If you or someone you know would like to speak more in depth with someone about sexual assault, please contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 or text 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Also, you can contact the COLOR office for any questions at 303-393-0382.
Jolene J. Cardenas is the Communications Manager for the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR).