More military men than women are sexually abused in the ranks each year, a Pentagon survey shows, highlighting the underreporting of male-on-male assaults.
When the Defense Department released the results of its anonymous sexual abuse survey this month and concluded that 26,000 service members were victims in fiscal 2012, which ended Sept. 30, an automatic assumption was that most were women. But roughly 14,000 of the victims were male and 12,000 female, according to a scientific survey sample produced by the Pentagon.
The statistics show that, as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel begins a campaign to stamp out “unwanted sexual contact,” there are two sets of victims that must be addressed.
“It appears that the DOD has serious problems with male-on-male sexual assaults that men are not reporting and the Pentagon doesn’t want to talk about,” Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness. She noted that only 2 percent of assailants are women.
Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said the Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Office is tackling the entire problem.
The assault office “recognizes the challenges male survivors face and has reached out to organizations supporting male survivors for assistance and information to help inform our way ahead,” Ms. Smith said. “A focus of our prevention efforts over the next several months is specifically geared toward male survivors and will include why male survivors report at much lower rates than female survivors, and determining the unique support and assistance male survivors need.”
She said the department has included information on male victims on the “DOD Safe Helpline,” which connects them to trained professionals.
“Together, everyone in this department at every level of command will continue to work together every day to establish an environment of dignity and respect, where sexual assault is not tolerated, condoned or ignored, where there is clear accountability placed on all leaders at every level,” Ms. Smith said.
The Pentagon’s 1,400-page annual report came with two basic sets of data: official reports of sex crimes and a scientific survey sample of the 1.4 million active force from which the department extrapolated the number of abuses, regardless of whether they were officially reported.
Data showed 2,949 reports of abuse against a service member last year compared with 1,275 in 2004. The vast majority of victims (88 percent) were female — a statistic that tells the Pentagon that male victims (12 percent) do not come forward at the same rate.
Subjects of investigations are almost always men (90 percent), compared with women (2 percent) — a statistic indicating that male victims are assaulted by other men.
The survey determined that 26,000 service members were victims of sexual assault last year, based on the 6.1 percent of female and 1.2 percent of male respondents who claimed to have suffered such abuse. With an active-duty force of 200,000 women and 1.2 million men, that amounts to roughly 12,000 female victims and 14,000 male victims.
“The [Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Office] continues to focus its attention on women who experience abuse but don’t report it, overlooking the far greater numbers of men who, according to the survey, are experiencing abuse but not reporting it,” said Mrs. Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness.
“If the Pentagon considers the survey results a credible reflection of hidden reality, they must also concede that there are more men than women who are being sexually assaulted,” she said.
Mrs. Donnelly fought President Obama’s decision to lift the ban on open gays in the ranks, which took effect in September 2011. She also opposes plans to open direct ground combat jobs to women, saying it will import the sexual abuse problem into the combat ranks.
The annual report shows that of assaults on women, 67 percent happened on base, 19 percent in a war zone and 20 percent on a ship or a field exercise.
For male-on-male assaults, 73 percent happened on base and 26 percent in a combat zone.
The Pentagon’s definition of unwanted sexual contact ranges from rape to “abusive sexual contact” and “involves intentional sexual contact that was against a person’s will or occurred when the person did not or could not consent. The term describes completed and attempted oral, anal and vaginal penetration with any body part or object, and the unwanted touching of genitalia and other sexually related areas of the body.”
In light of the annual report that shows an increase in unwanted sexual contact, Mr. Hagel and his senior officers and enlisted personnel met with Mr. Obama last week to discuss what the defense secretary called “this huge problem.”
“The president was very constructive,” Mr. Hagel told reporters Friday. “He was very clear. There wasn’t anybody in that room who wasn’t disappointed and embarrassed and didn’t recognize that we’ve in many ways failed. But we all have committed to turn this around, and we’re going to fix the problem. As the president said in his comments after that meeting, there’s no silver bullet. This is going to take all of us.”
Aaron Belkin, who heads The Palm Center, which studies gays and lesbians in the military, said “very few” male-on-male perpetrators are gay, saying such incidents are “somewhat similar to prison rape.”
“It is important to try as hard as possible to eliminate sexual assaults from the military, but I don’t think that procedural reforms will do much to lower the incidence rate unless military culture changes dramatically,” said Mr. Belkin, whose 2012 book “Bring Me Men,” included a case study on male-on-male rape in the military.
• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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