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Despite crackdown, sexual assaults continue in military's active-duty ranks

Seven years after the Pentagon committed to crack down on sexual crimes in the ranks, such cases continue to plague the military. Of 15 courts-martial at Fort Sill in 2011, five involved sexual assaults, all but one of those on other service members.
by Phillip O'Connor Published: July 9, 2012
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The 18-year-old private thought nothing of it in January when another member of her unit invited her to his barracks room to watch a movie. They had been friends since shortly after basic training.

In his room, he turned on her. He forced his hand down her shorts, grabbed her breast and exposed himself. When she resisted, he choked her.

Last month, the soldier found himself in a courtroom at this sprawling Army post 85 miles southwest of Oklahoma City, facing a court-martial.

Seven years after the Pentagon committed to crack down on sexual crimes in the ranks, such cases continue to plague the military.

Of 15 courts-martial at Fort Sill in 2011, five involved sexual assaults, all but one of those on other service members.

From basic training to front-line units, the military long has struggled with the issue of sexual assault.

In 2004, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered a review of how the military handled such cases after female soldiers said they were sexually assaulted by fellow soldiers while serving in Iraq and Kuwait. As a result, the services beefed up investigations and prosecutions, strengthened victim advocacy efforts and ordered everyone from privates to generals to receive prevention training.

Despite those efforts, an estimated 20,000 violent sex crimes were committed in the U.S. military last year, according to Defense Department data.

In the active-duty Army, the number of violent sex crimes, such as rape, sexual assault and forcible sodomy, has increased every year since 2006. Army figures from 2011, the latest available, show 2,290 such crimes were committed, a 5 percent increase over 2010 and an almost 9 percent increase over 2009.

Pentagon officials have attributed the rise to increased reporting rather than a higher number of incidents. Even so, the military estimates as many as 80 percent of sexual assaults go unreported.

One study showed as many as 40 percent of female veterans reported military sexual trauma that resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and sleep difficulty.

Although women make up only 14 percent of the Army, they comprise 95 percent of all victims of violent sex crimes, according to the recently released Army report.

The report found that about half of all rapes occur in barracks. Typically, victims are 18 to 22 years old, within their first 18 months of service and almost always are acquainted with their attacker.

Many of those factors were at play in the court-martial last month at Fort Sill.

Fort Sill incident

Typically, about 9,000 military members are permanently stationed at Fort Sill, a 150-square-mile post that is home to many of the military's artillery training units. In addition, about 17,000 soldiers pass through every year undergoing basic combat training. The fort also trains about 9,800 officers and 2,500 noncommissioned officers each year.

The victim testified she and her attacker became friends months earlier while training to serve in a Patriot missile battery.

On the night of the attack, she said, he'd called to ask her to go out and “catch up.”

After a restaurant dinner, they returned to his barracks room, where the victim testified Pvt. Matthew Raczykowski assaulted her.

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by Phillip O'Connor
Enterprise Editor
O'Connor joined the Oklahoman staff in June, 2012 after working at The Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a combined 28 years. O'Connor, an Oklahoma City resident, is a graduate of Kansas State University. He has written frequently...
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