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October 13, 2015

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Harry Reid: Military mindset toward sexual assault must change

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

The military’s long-simmering problem with sexual assaults boiled over into enough of a scandal with the recent sexual battery arrest of the Air Force’s top sex assault prevention official that Congress is finally taking some action.

Senators held hearings on Tuesday.

The bipartisan duo of Sens. Patty Murray and Kelly Ayotte announced a bill to create a special military lawyer to handle sex assault cases, and Democratic Sen. Kristen Gillibrand promised another to help victims circumvent requirements to report assaults up the chain of command.

“I’m sure they’re steps in the right direction,” Sen. Harry Reid said Tuesday. But before he instructs the Senate to take a look at the proposals, he’d like the military to take a hard look at itself.

“I’m happy to look at means to change the laws,” Reid said. “But it appears to me that we’re going to need to change the mindset of the military.”

Recent survey results from the Defense Department suggest that the incidence of sexual assault in the military is getting worse.

In an annual report released Tuesday, the DOD reported a 6 percent increase in sexual assaults between fiscal 2011 and 2012, from 3,192 to 3,374.

But the department’s 2012 Workplace and Gender Relations survey — an anonymous poll of active duty members — found 26,000 reported being the victim of unwanted sexual contact. That’s 30 percent higher than the approximately 19,000 who reported such assaults in 2010.

The report pointed out, however, that the 2012 figures were better than in 2006, when the number of anonymously reported sexual assaults hovered around 37,000.

But in both 2012 and 2006, the percentage of active duty women and men anonymously reporting sexual assaults was similar.

In 2012, the DOD determined 6.1 percent of women and 1.2 percent of men in the active duty military had experienced some form of sexual assault; in 2006, it was 6.8 percent of active duty women and 1.8 percent of active duty men.

“I’m terribly disappointed that they’re not doing a better job within the military itself,” Reid said Tuesday, adding that “if we need changes in the law, I’m happy to look at them very closely.”

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