Response to Military Sexual Assaults Found Lacking

Last week we reported on a survey being conducted by the Navy concerning sexual harassment and assault. This week, the Navy has released updated results of a related study, this one concerning the effectiveness of sexual assault hotlines maintained by the Navy and Marine Corps.

None of the news paints a bright picture. Previous surveys indicate that in any given year a female in the service has a 4-5% chance of being sexually assaulted in some way over the course of the year, including a 1% chance of being raped. This contrasts with a 0.06% risk rate for the general population, based on a 2009 CBS News estimate that put the total number of reported rapes annually at around 90,000.

While the Navy’s own figures indicate that its women are at nearly 20 times the risk of the general population, they also show a severe problem in providing resources to victims.

The independent newsweekly Navy Times reported on Sunday that a Naval auditor found problems with the way 25% of test calls were handled by hotlines and victim advocate phone numbers. Specific problems included failure to return voicemails promptly, an inability to leave a message at all, and “failing to preserve the restricted reporting option, under which a victim can report the incident without initiating an investigation while availing themselves of Navy advocacy, medical and counseling services.”

The fact that one in four victims may not be receiving adequate attention actually represents vast improvement. The Navy conducted similar audits in January and in June 2010 – failure rates then were 41% and 46%, respectively. The Marine numbers for the two prior tests were at 28% and 60%.

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