Pentagon officials on Thursday unveiled a new sexual assault prevention strategy that directs the services to review alcohol policies after the military saw the number of sexual assault reports increase 50 percent last year.
U.S. military leaders, who have been under extreme pressure from Congress to stamp out sexual assault in the ranks, called the reporting increase "unprecedented" and linked it to recent efforts to encourage victims to come forward and report sexual assault and sexual harassment.
In 2013, there were 5,061 reported cases of sexual assault compared to 3,374 in 2012, according to the Pentagon's latest report released Thursday. Despite the increase, Pentagon officials said there is no indication that the spike in reporting reflects an increase in crime.
The report showed that the Defense Department had "sufficient evidence to take some kind of disciplinary action against 73 percent of military offenders," compared to 2012 when the military saw 66 percent of offenders brought up on charges.
"The 2013 report also shows that commanders were able to take stronger disciplinary action against alleged perpetrators," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters at Thursday's Pentagon briefing.
The military saw an increase in 2013 in offenders tried by courts martial. Of those cases that went to court, 76 percent of offenders were convicted on at least one charge, Pentagon officials said.
Officials from the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, or SAPRO, attributed a large part of the increased reporting to the efforts of service leaders to change the way the military handles sexual assault.
"What has changed on the horizon is that senior leader focus," Nate Galbreath, senior executive advisor to SAPRO.
The DoD Sexual Assault Prevention Strategy for 2014-2016 directs the services to evaluate sexual assault prevention training for commanders; encourage male victims to report assaults; review alcohol policies; develop a standardized and voluntary survey for victims; develop a collaborative forum for prevention methods; and address the military culture in general.
"Today I have issued six directives to build on what we have already done," Hagel said, adding that the Pentagon will "try to better encourage male victims to report assaults and seek assistance."
Hagel said the new strategy will require alcohol policies to be revised where necessary and address risks alcohol poses to others, including the risks of alcohol being used as a weapon against victims."
The alcohol policy review might look at the ways alcohol is served and sold to decrease its effects on the body. "Do you really need to sell someone five-fifths of bourbon at 2 o'clock in the morning? Probably not," Galbreath said.
Pentagon officials did not offer a lot of details about male sexual assault, but about "35 percent of male victims indicated their offender was another man, 40 percent indicated their offender was a woman and the remainder indicated that their offenders were men and women acting together," said Galbreath, detailing 2010 survey data that contained responses from male victims.
Each of the directives will take time and require the service chiefs to make recommendations where necessary.
"As to what changes will actually be made, that is yet to be determined," said SAPRO director Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org