WASHINGTON – The Pentagon said Friday the number of reported sexual assaults in the U.S. military rose slightly last year, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta promised new steps to prevent assaults and to hold perpetrators accountable.
In its annual report to Congress on sexual assaults, the Pentagon there were 3,192 reports of sexual assault involving service members as either victims or perpetrators in the 2011 budget year ended Sept. 30. That is a 1 percent increase over the 3,158 assaults reported a year earlier and 3,230 reported the year before that.
The Pentagon has estimated that 86 percent of assaults go unreported.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., called the latest report "regrettably, more of the same."
In a statement, Panetta said he has made it a top priority to find ways to reduce sexual assaults, to make victims feel secure enough to report the crime without fear of retribution and to ensure that offenders are held accountable
He noted that Friday's report showed that courts martial are used more frequently now in disciplining perpetrators. Of the 791 military sexual offenders punished last year, 62 percent faced a court martial. That compares with 52 percent in 2010 and 30 percent in 2007. The proportion of cases in which less severe forms of discipline are pursued, such as administrative actions and discharges, has declined in that same period.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Kay Hertog, director of the Pentagon's sexual assault prevention and response office, said the more frequent court martialing of perpetrators reflects an increasing awareness among military members about what constitutes a sexual assault and how to report it, as well as better training of investigators.
"It's a positive trend," she said in a telephone interview.
Panetta and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, are scheduled to meet behind closed doors with the co-chairs of the House military sexual assault prevention caucus on Monday. Panetta said he would announce new steps next week aimed at reducing the sexual assault problem.
The Pentagon report is available at http://www.sapr.mil