Pentagon accused of withholding sex crimes info

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Pentagon Accused of Withholding Sex Crimes Info

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a scathing critique of the Defense Department's efforts to curb sexual assaults, a U.S. senator warned Monday that the true scope of sex-related violence in the military communities is "vastly underreported" and that victims continue to struggle for justice.

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand - Military sexual assaults
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Pentagon accused of withholding sex crimes info
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is interviewed about military sexual assaults on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 30, 2015. The spouses of service members and civilian women who live or work near military facilities are especially vulnerable to being sexually assaulted, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. said in a report. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is reflected in a framed U.S. flag while she is interviewed about military sexual assaults on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 30, 2015. The spouses of service members and civilian women who live or work near military facilities are especially vulnerable to being sexually assaulted, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. said in a report. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., poses for a portrait after speaking about military sexual assaults, during an interview in her office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 30, 2015. The spouses of service members and civilian women who live or work near military facilities are especially vulnerable to being sexually assaulted, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. said in a report. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is interviewed about military sexual assaults, in her Capitol Hill office in Washington, Thursday, April 30, 2015. The spouses of service members and civilian women who live or work near military facilities are especially vulnerable to being sexually assaulted, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. said in a report. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., center, flanked by Sarah Plummer, a Marine Corps veteran who was a victim of sexual assault, left, and Kate Weber, a veteran who was sexually assaulted during her service in the Army, gestures while speaking at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013. They are joined by supporters of her proposal to let military prosecutors rather than commanders make decisions on whether to prosecute sexual assaults in the armed forces. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 6, 2014, following a Senate vote on military sexual assaults. The Senate blocked a bill that would have stripped senior military commanders of their authority to prosecute rapes and other serious offenses, capping an emotional, nearly yearlong fight over how best to curb sexual assault in the ranks. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel , discusses her proposed reforms for prosecuting sexual assaults in the military, during an interview with The Associated Press in her Capitol Hill office in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., joined by Sarah Plummer, left, a Marine Corps veteran and victim of sexual assault, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013. They are joined by supporters of her proposal to let military prosecutors rather than commanders make decisions on whether to prosecute sexual assaults in the armed forces. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas speak to reporters during a news conference about a bill regarding military sexual assault cases on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. asks a question of a witness on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 4, 2013, during the committee's hearing on pending legislation regarding sexual assaults in the military . (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Senate subcommittee on Personnel Chair Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., left, hugs BriGette McCoy, a former Specialist in the U.S. Army, after McCoy testified on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 13, 2013, before the subcommittee's hearing to investigate sexual assault in the military. McCoy, a Persian Gulf war veteran, said she was raped when she was 18 and at her first duty station. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Senate subcommittee on Personnel Chair, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., right, talks with former US Army Sgt. Rebekah Havrilla, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 13, 2013, after Havrilla testified before the subcommittee's hearing on sexual assault in the military. Havrilla told the committee that she encountered a "broken" military criminal justice system after she was raped by another service member while serving in Afghanistan. Havrilla described suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and described how her case was eventually closed after senior commanders decided not to pursue charges. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
FILE - In this March 13, 2013, file photo Chair of the Senate subcommittee on Personnel, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., right, greets panel members testifying at the hearing on sexual assault in the military on Capitol Hill in Washington. Gillibrand is challenging the Pentagon’s top brass, and some of her more senior Senate colleagues, over how the services handle the epidemic of sexual assaults. It’s a fight that crosses gender and party affiliation, and one that the tenacious 46-year-old just may win. From left are Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Richard Harding, Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Dana Chipman, acting General Council of the Defense Department Robert Taylor, Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Nanette DeRenzi, Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant of the Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Vaughn Ary, and Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office Maj. Gen. Gary Patton. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said in a report that the Pentagon refused to provide her with all the information she requested about sexual assaults at several major bases. The material she did receive revealed that the spouses of service members and civilian women who live or work near military facilities are especially vulnerable to being sexually assaulted. Yet they "remain in the shadows" because neither is counted in Defense Department surveys to determine the prevalence of sexual assaults, the report said.

"I don't think the military is being honest about the problem," Gillibrand said in an interview.

The senator said her analysis of 107 sexual assault cases found punishments that were too lenient and the word of the alleged assailant was more likely to be believed than the victim. Less than a quarter of the cases went to trial and just 11 resulted in conviction for a sex crime. Female civilians were the victims in more than half the cases, said Gillibrand, an outspoken advocate for an overhaul of the military justice system.

In its annual report on sexual assaults in the military released Friday, the Defense Department reported progress in staunching the epidemic of sexual assaults. It estimated that sex crimes are decreasing and more victims are choosing to report them - a sign there is more confidence offenders will be held accountable.

Laura Seal, a Defense Department spokeswoman, said the department does not have authority to include civilians in its surveys.

In one of the cases Gillibrand reviewed, an airman allegedly pinned his ex-girlfriend down and then raped her. During the investigation, two other civilian victims stepped forward to accuse the same airman of sexual assault. One of them, the wife of another service member, awoke in the night to find the airman in bed with her. Two of his fingers were inside her vagina. The investigating officer recommended the airman be court-martialed. If convicted, he faced a lengthy prison term.

But the investigator's superiors decided against a trial and used administrative procedures to discharge the airman under "other than honorable conditions." The Air Force said the victims preferred this course of action. Two of them had decided they "wanted no part in the case," according to the Air Force, while the third said she did not want to testify.

To Gillibrand, the outcome was suspicious and suggested the victims may have been intimidated.

"It's frustrating because you look at the facts in these cases and you see witnesses willing to come forward, getting the medical exam and either eventually withdrawing their case or the investigators deciding that her testimony wasn't valid or believable," she said.

The report said the case files contradict the Pentagon's assertion that military commanders will be tough on service members accused of sex crimes. Gillibrand has backed legislation that would remove commanders from the process of deciding whether serious crimes, including sexual misconduct cases, go to trial. That judgment would rest with seasoned military attorneys who have prosecutorial experience. The Pentagon is opposed to the change.

Gillibrand's request for the case files followed a February 2014 Associated Press investigation into the U.S. military's handling of sexual assault cases in Japan that revealed a pattern of random and inconsistent judgments.

To determine whether the same situation existed at major U.S. bases, Gillibrand asked then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for the details of sexual assault cases investigated and adjudicated from 2009 to 2014 at the Army's Fort Hood in Texas, Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, the Marine Corps' Camp Pendleton in California and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

In December, the Pentagon provided records just for 2013, Gillibrand said, and those 107 cases were delivered only after former Sen. Carl Levin, then chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, intervened.

The refusal to provide the data, Gillibrand's report said, "calls into question the department's commitment to transparency and getting to the root of the problem."

Seal said the scope of Gillibrand's request was "extraordinary" - though the AP obtained more than 1,000 reports of sex crimes involving U.S. military personnel based in Japan between 2005 and early 2013. The senator and the department agreed to provide a subset of what she originally requested, Seal said.

Gillibrand said she still wants the files from the other years.

The senator also questioned whether the 107 cases represented the actual total for the four bases. There were five for Wright-Patterson even though the base told AP its legal office had received nine allegations of sexual assault in 2013. There were 15 cases for 2013 at Naval Station Norfolk, the largest naval installation in the world with 43,000 service members stationed there.

In another case cited by Gillibrand, a married, 34-year-old Marine Corps staff sergeant received a reduction in rank and was docked $2,042 in pay after allegedly forcing a 17-year-old girl to have sex with him.

The Air Force investigating officer said the victim was not a credible witness because there were glaring inconsistencies in her story. Under the terms of a pretrial agreement, a sexual assault charge was withdrawn. The Marine pleaded guilty to providing alcohol to a minor, making a false statement and adultery.

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Link to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's report:

http://www.gillibrand.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Gillibrand-Sexual%20Assault%20Report.pdf

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