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Mercury News: Rape in the ranks

Published May 9, 2014 3:51 pm

San Jose Mercury News
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The spike in reports of sexual assaults in the military has the Pentagon scrambling, as it should.

"We have a long way to go in solving this problem," said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week. He is a master of understatement.

But the president and Congress passed up the real opportunity to solve it. They should have taken sexual assault reporting out of the military order of command.

The report on the past year's incidents shows a 50 percent increase in claims overall, with wide variations among branches of the service. The Marines' spiked 86 percent, for example, with the Navy's increasing 33 percent — still nothing to brag about. There were 5,061 reports in all, up from around 3,374 the year before.

The lipstick being applied to this pig of a report is that victims are reporting more incidents because they are less fearful that their careers will be destroyed. But the numbers show a much more pervasive problem than the brass had acknowledged. And they surely reflect a fraction of the total incidents, since sexual assaults are underreported even in civilian life.

A volunteer, sophisticated military has to attract men and women regardless of sexual orientation. Getting the best people is a national security interest. This image of the military as sexual harassment central has to be erased. If Hagel's team can't get it under control, Congress should step in.