Senator: Focus must be on accountability for perpetrators, as well as prevention

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill today accompanied a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives to the Pentagon, to receive a briefing from top officials on steps the military has taken to prevent sexual assault, and to deliver the message that their focus must be on prosecution, as well as prevention.

“The level of sexual assault in the military is unacceptable, and an insult to troops already putting their lives on the line to protect our freedoms,” said McCaskill, a former Jackson Country Prosecutor and a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We need to make sure that the message is spread throughout the ranks, to both survivors and perpetrators, that these crimes will be aggressively investigated and prosecuted to the fullest possible extent.”

McCaskill was briefed by the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, along with the vice chiefs from each of the military services.

The latest statistics for sexual assault in the military, from the Fiscal Year 2011 report prepared by the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, show 3,191 cases reported—although it is estimated that only 13.5% of survivors report, so the actual number of assaults could be closer to 19,000. The 3,191 cases reported resulted in only 150 individuals spending time in jail or prison.  

“Victims clearly don’t feel they can report these assaults—but what’s more troubling is the fact that so few of these criminals face time behind bars,” said McCaskill.

McCaskill has been a Senate leader on sexual assault prevention in the military. She took action to respond to reports of sexual assault occurring at Fort Leonard Wood that were detailed in a St. Louis Post Dispatch investigation.  At a 2011 Armed Services hearing, McCaskill grilled then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs about the military's response to instances of sexual assault. McCaskill also questioned current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta during his confirmation hearing on further steps to combat sexual assaults.

McCaskill included provisions in the 2012 and 2013 National Defense Authorization Acts designed to improve the military's response to sexual assault and encourage the services to adopt training for sexual assault investigators developed at the Army’s Military Police School at Fort Leonard Wood.