Sexual assault in the U.S. military
There is an ongoing problem with sexual assault in the U.S. military which has resulted in a series of scandals that have received extensive media coverage. Incidents which were publicized include the Tailhook scandal
Tailhook scandal
The Tailhook scandal refers to a series of incidents where more than 100 U.S. Navy and United States Marine Corps aviation officers were alleged to have sexually assaulted at least 87 women, or otherwise engaged in "improper and indecent" conduct at the Las Vegas Hilton in Las Vegas, Nevada...

 in 1991, the Aberdeen scandal
Aberdeen scandal
The Aberdeen Scandal was a military sex scandal in 1996 at Aberdeen Proving Ground, a United States Army base in Maryland. The Army brought charges against 12 commissioned and non-commissioned male officers for sexual assault on female trainees under their command.-Charges brought against the...

 in 1996 and the 2003 US Air Force Academy sexual assault scandal. In an attempt to deal with this problem the Defense Department has issued the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Response policy. A provision in the fiscal 2004 National Defense Authorization Act required investigation and reporting regarding sexual harassment and assault at the United States military academies. A report was published in the New York Times magazine in March, 2007 which surveyed women soldiers' experience in the Iraq War showing significant incidence of post traumatic stress syndrome resulting from the combination of combat stress
Combat Stress
Combat Stress is a UK charity offering residential treatment to ex-servicemen and women suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health issues....

 and sexual assault
Sexual assault
Sexual assault is an assault of a sexual nature on another person, or any sexual act committed without consent. Although sexual assaults most frequently are by a man on a woman, it may involve any combination of two or more men, women and children....

. 15% of female veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who have visited a VA facility have screened positively for military sexual trauma.

Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies report

The Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies issued its report on August 25, 2005 which showed both a continuing problem and efforts to deal with it:

Sexual assault overseas

Sexual assault of female soldiers overseas became such an issue in the beginning of the war in Iraq that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered an investigation and held senate hearings over the matter. Over 100 cases were reported within the first eighteen months of the war. Sen. Susan Collins of the Armed Services Committee said “What does it say about us as a people, as a nation, as the foremost military in the world when our women soldiers sometimes have more to fear from their fellow soldiers than from the enemy?” The Pentagon has estimated that 80% to 90% of sexual assault cases go unreported. The fear of the repercussions and embarrassment that could likely follow a report is enough to keep the silence.

Task force charter

The Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies was established on September 23, 2004, pursuant to Section 526 of Public Law 108-136, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004. Congress directed the Task Force to assess and make recommendations concerning how the Departments of the Army and the Navy may more effectively address sexual harassment and assault at the United States Military Academy
United States Military Academy
The United States Military Academy at West Point is a four-year coeducational federal service academy located at West Point, New York. The academy sits on scenic high ground overlooking the Hudson River, north of New York City...

 and the United States Naval Academy
United States Naval Academy
The United States Naval Academy is a four-year coeducational federal service academy located in Annapolis, Maryland, United States...

. The Task Force consists of six members from the four branches of the Armed Forces and six members from the civilian community.

Service academy culture

Historically, sexual harassment and sexual assault have been inadequately addressed at both Academies. Harassment is the more prevalent and corrosive problem, creating an environment in which sexual assault is more likely to occur.

The Task Force also found that because female service members are a minority, are excluded from some of the highly regarded combat specialties, and are held to different physical fitness standards. Some in Academy communities do not value women as highly as men. Accordingly, the Task Force recommends: 1) Increase the number and visibility of female officers and Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) in key positions to serve as role models for both male and female cadets and midshipmen. 2) Increase the percentage of women cadets and midshipmen at the Academies within current service operational constraints. 3) Ensure consistent opportunities for women to be involved in leadership and Academy decision making, e.g. academic boards and admission boards.

The Task Force concludes the leadership, staff, faculty, cadets and midshipmen must model behaviors that reflect and positively convey the value of women in the military. In addition we recommend the Academies use modern survey and management tools on a permanent basis to provide information to oversight bodies.


Confidentiality is an ethical principle associated with several professions . In ethics, and in law and alternative forms of legal resolution such as mediation, some types of communication between a person and one of these professionals are "privileged" and may not be discussed or divulged to...

 is a complicated matter with numerous implications for both victims and commanders, as evidenced by the extended debate within the Department of Defense prior to the approval of the new confidentiality policy. Confidentiality, as used in this report, refers to the privileged communications between victims of sexual assault and specified care providers and counselors. Confidentiality supports the provision of timely and meaningful assistance to victims following a sexual assault. Privileged communication, however, is an issue of extreme importance for commanders, not just victims.

Commanders have principal responsibility for ensuring appropriate care of victims, as well as for investigating and holding accountable those who have committed the related misconduct. In our view, commanders can do neither effectively without a privileged reporting and counseling channel in place. The requirement that military medical facilities report cases of sexual assault is but one example of the problems associated with a lack of confidentiality under current military regulations.

This requirement may inhibit a victim from seeking necessary medical care and lessen the likelihood the victim will report the assault. Accordingly, the Task Force recommends: Congress should create a statutory privilege protecting communications made by victims of sexual assault to health care provider
Health care provider
A health care provider is an individual or an institution that provides preventive, curative, promotional or rehabilitative health care services in a systematic way to individuals, families or communities....

s and victim advocates.This privilege should extend to both medical and mental health care providers and to those victim advocates designated and trained to perform that duty in a manner prescribed by DoD regulation.

Victims' rights and support

The Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Defense’s Report on the Service Academy Sexual Assault and Leadership Survey, published in 2005 (presenting data from 2004) stated that the majority of female victims of sexual assault did not report because of fear of disclosure and the resulting perceived ramifications. The Task Force recommends: Further maximize the use of existing and potential avenues for victims’ support and reporting. Maximizing avenues for victims’ support provides more options for disclosure; expands the ability to obtain support and care; and assists in making informed decisions. Based on the guidelines provided in this report, the Academies should establish a plan to implement the new DoD Sexual Assault Response policy and protocol and submit their plan to the Services in accordance with the statute. The Task Force recommends: Provide training to all Academy personnel, to include cadets and midshipmen, on the various reporting resources, the level of confidentiality afforded to each, as well as treatment available to victims. Finally: Ensure victims are informed of and afforded their federally mandated rights.

Offender accountability

At both Academies available records from the past ten years reflect an extended period where alleged offenders were not consistently or effectively held accountable through the criminal justice system. The past two years have witnessed improved efforts and limited success at holding sexual assault offenders accountable through courts-martials. Although the Task Force finds that the current programs are greatly improved, a key obstacle to increasing accountability for rape and sexual assault is that current statutes, though flexible, do not reflect the full spectrum of criminal sexual behaviors encountered at the military service academies and society at large. Therefore, the Task Force recommends that Congress revise the current sexual misconduct statutes to more clearly and comprehensively address the full range of sexual misconduct. Further, to facilitate the pretrial investigative process, the Task Force recommends the amendment of Article 32 of the UCMJ to permit commanders to close the proceedings to protect the privacy of victims and alleged offenders.

Training and education

Although the Academies have expended considerable effort in developing their sexual harassment and assault training and education programs, current format and scheduling undermine their importance and continuity. Programs are poorly designed, over-reliant on cadet and midshipmen instructors, inconveniently scheduled, and ineffective in conveying key concepts. In addition, faculty, staff, and volunteers are inadequately trained on sexual harassment and assault issues. Accordingly, the Task Force recommends that classes addressing sexual harassment and assault be graded, conducted during academic hours, instructed by qualified faculty members, and incorporate a variety of instructional methods.


At both Academies, sexual harassment and assault prevention program execution and management is fragmented and inadequate. In order to change prevailing attitudes and social norms we recommend that the Academies develop an institutional sexual harassment and assault prevention plan that is evaluated and updated annually. In addition, the Task Force found that Tactical Noncommissioned Officers and Senior Enlisted Leaders are underutilized resources in the prevention of sexual harassment and assault. Senior Noncommissioned Officer and Senior Enlisted Leader duties need to be clearly defined and provide for greater direct interaction and involvement with cadets and midshipmen, particularly during evening and weekend hours.

Coordination between military and civilian communities

The insight from years of sexual assault reform in the civilian community is that permanent solutions must be community solutions. The Task Force finds that the Academies have limited formal relationships with local law enforcement and victim support agencies. The Task Force recommends the Academies follow the DoD police regarding establishing collaborative relationships with civilian authorities for sexual assault victim support. Where informal relationships are more appropriate, the Academies should endorse and validate these relationships through documentation.


The record of the two Academies, much like the record of the Department of Defense, is one of sporadic and incomplete attempts to eliminate sexual harassment and assault. Both the Naval and the Military Academies have made progress in addressing these issues over the last several years.

See also

  • Rape
    Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse, which is initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person's consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or with a person who is incapable of valid consent. The...

  • Rape in the United States of America
  • Women in the military
  • Sexual assault
    Sexual assault
    Sexual assault is an assault of a sexual nature on another person, or any sexual act committed without consent. Although sexual assaults most frequently are by a man on a woman, it may involve any combination of two or more men, women and children....

  • Sexual violence
    Sexual violence
    Sexual violence occurs throughout the world, although in most countries there has been little research conducted on the problem. Due to the private nature of sexual violence, estimating the extent of the problem is difficult...

External links

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