With an estimated 26,000 sexual assaults committed in the U.S. military last year, conventional wisdom might suggest women would represent a majority of victims. But that conventional wisdom would be wrong. While a higher portion of women than men are sexually assaulted, a recent Defense Department study notes that men account for 53 percent of all sexual assault victims. And that number may be underreported, as male troops who fear the stigma of being labeled a victim of sexual assault suffer in silence. The alarming rates of sexual assault of both men and women bolster the case for pursuing the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault claims outside the immediate chain of command.
The crisis of sexual assaults within the military and the Pentagon's inability to deal with it effectively remains unacceptable. In 2010, 19,000 sexual assaults were reported before the figures reached a peak in 2012. Before the 2011 repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy prohibiting openly gay military personnel from serving, many male sexual assault victims declined to report attacks for fear that they would be viewed as homosexual and removed from active duty.
Nothing can be more disruptive to maintaining good order and discipline within the ranks than the threat of a sexual assault at the hands of a fellow soldier. A recent move by Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., to scuttle a provision to give military prosecutors, rather than the immediate chain of command, greater leeway in pursuing sexual assault allegations was shortsighted and did not help the situation.
The men and women in the nation's military are in harm's way enough without having to also fear they could be sexually assaulted and then have no independent path for investigation and prosecution available to them.