Nearly 3,000 members of the U.S. armed forces were involved in reported sex crimes in 2006, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
That looks to be an increase from 2005, when the Pentagon says it received 2,374 reports of attempted or actual rapes or sexual assaults. But, it cautions, comparisons are difficult because its reporting process is new.
Those numbers are of interest to several of our readers and viewers, who wrote in following our coverage of the rape and sexual assault allegations by KBR/Halliburton contract employees in Iraq.
What was the prevalence of sex crimes in the military? They wondered.
Even with these statistics, it’s a tough question to answer. First, experts warn that sex crimes are notoriously underreported, and that may be even more true for crimes involving members of the military – particularly in war zones. Working in close quarters or in isolated units, victims may be less likely to report a crime for fear of ostracization or retaliation.
Second, of the 2,974 cases reported in 2006, the military investigated only 2,277. That’s because it allows victims to report a rape or sexual assault but request it be kept confidential. The option may lower an alleged victim’s fear of reprisal, if he or she can keep investigators from interrogating fellow unit members and collecting other evidence.
Of the cases investigated, nearly 1,200 involved servicemembers allegedly assaulting fellow servicemembers. Some 82 involved servicemembers being assaulted by civilians. In 370 investigations, the alleged assailant was "unidentified" as either military or civilian. A civilian was the subject and a servicemember the perpetrator of the alleged crime in 658 of the reports probed.
According to the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, rape and sexual assault in its ranks may be increasing, although it warns its data is incomplete: it received 2,374 reports of actual or attempted rapes and sexual assaults in 2005, the first year complete statistics were kept. The previous year, its data show 1,700 reports.