The number of sex-related crimes occurring in US military communities is far greater than the Defense Department has publicly reported, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said today in a scathing critique that asserts the Pentagon has refused to provide her information about sexual assaults at several major bases. The spouses of service members and civilian women who live or work near military facilities are especially vulnerable to sexual assault, Gillibrand said. Yet they "remain in the shadows" because neither is counted in surveys conducted by the Defense Department to determine the prevalence of sexual assaults within the ranks, the report said. "I don't think the military is being honest about the problem," Gillibrand said in an interview.
Gillibrand said her analysis of 107 sexual assault cases found punishments that were too lenient and that the word of the alleged assailant was more likely to be believed than the victim. Less than a quarter of the cases went to trial and just 11 resulted in conviction for a sex crime. In one case, three civilians accused an airman of sexual assault, but officials decided against a trial and discharged the airman under "other than honorable conditions." Female civilians were the victims in more than half the cases, according to Gillibrand, an outspoken advocate for an overhaul of the military justice system. In its annual report on sexual assaults released Friday, the Defense Department reported progress in staunching the epidemic. A Pentagon rep said it does not have authority to include civilians in its surveys. (Read more Kirsten Gillibrand stories.)