Study casts doubt on Pentagon’s sexual assault estimates

McClatchy Washington BureauJune 4, 2014 




A major, unheralded study commissioned by Congress is casting doubt on the much-hyped estimates of military sexual assault.

The claims are both commonplace and concrete.

“The fact is, there are 26,000 military sexual assaults a year,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., declared last November.

"Of the more than 26,000 estimated military assaults last year, just 10 percent were reported,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said at about the same time.

“The Pentagon released a survey estimating that 26,000 people in the armed forces were sexually assaulted last year,” the New York Times reported in May 2013.

But this 26,000 figure is an extrapolation, from a survey, and its weakness as a tool to estimate actual sexual assault is highlighted in the new report from a subcommittee of the awkwardly named Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Panel.

The 500-plus page report cautions that “sources of information about prevalence and incident rates require careful attention before relying on their conclusions to assess the extent of sexual assault, whether among military or civilian populations.”

“The behavior surveyed ranged from unwanted touching to rape,” the report notes. “While intended to capture certain acts prohibited by the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), this definition does not specifically track any particular criminal conduct.”

“Even though data extrapolated from the (survey) include a wide range non-criminal behavior, the numbers are often misused to represent the number of incidents of criminal sexual assault in the military,” the report cautions.

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