Victims of sexual assault and their advocates demand reform of culture in which most of thousands of cases are not prosecuted.
As many as one in three servicewomen report having been sexually assaulted, according to the defense department. In 2010, the latest year for which data is available, the Pentagon estimated that some 19,000 assaults occurred.
In the same week that the House armed services committee learned that sexual assault and rape at Lackland Air Base in San Antonio was almost commonplace – 59 victims of sexual assault have been identified and 32 drill sergeants and training inspectors have been charged with crimes or policy violations including rape – Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair, who had served five tours of Afghanistan, was arraigned in Fort Bragg on a series of sexual misconduct charges, including forcible sodomy.
The culture of sexual violence is so pervasive that women are more likely to be victims of sexual assault by their fellow soldiers than they are to be killed on the battlefield.
This week, as the 1994 official ban on women in combat roles was finally lifted, sexual violence remains one of the military's biggest challenges in implementing the new policy. But servicewomen's groups, advocates for victims of sexual violence and servicewomen who have been abused welcomed Panetta's decision, saying it could be the key to address the culture.