Sexual Assault

Lynn Rosenthal, lead in the Department of Defense’s Independent Review Commission on sexual assault and harassment, and Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby deliver a briefing to the press at the Pentagon, March 24, 2021.(Department of Defense photo)

The Pentagon released its annual report on sexual assault in the military on Thursday amid intensified pressure across the department to act decisively to root out the scourge affecting retention, recruitment, and readiness.

The annual report to Congress revealed 7,816 cases filed during the fiscal year 2020, which ended in September. The number of active-duty cases filed was 6,290, a 1% increase over the previous year.

"There was an increase in Service member reporting of allegations of sexual assault experienced during military service," a DOD fact sheet stated.


Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has made rooting out sexual assault and harassment in the military a priority, complying with an order from President Joe Biden to create an independent review commission with a 90-day window to produce recommendations. The so-called IRC kicked off in late March with an initial set of recommendations. Its leader, former White House adviser on violence against women Lynn Rosenthal, said the group was looking at "major shifts at big picture items that could really change the culture."

In his first press conference in February, Austin was asked about a viral video of a tearful Army soldier describing how her harasser was set free in a military trial.

"We have been working at this for a long time in earnest, but we haven't gotten it right," Austin said at the time.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley also called for decisive changes, shifting his decades-old position recently that prosecutions of military personnel should be handled within the chain of command.

The president's leading military adviser is now open to an alternative.

"We, the chain of command, the generals, the colonels, the captains, and so on, we have lost the trust and confidence of those subordinates in our ability to deal with sexual assault," Milley said.

In December, the Army released the Fort Hood independent review, which examined climate and culture, leadership, and other factors.

The report made 70 recommendations for changes that reviewers believed contributed to the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment at one of the Army's largest bases, with 40,000 soldiers. Thursday, Biden's nominee for Army Secretary Catherine Wormuth said she planned to implement all of them.


The solution receiving the most attention in Congress has been pushed by New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, calling for removing serious crimes, including sexual assault from the chain of command. Instead, such cases would involve professional military lawyers.

Wormuth also told Gillibrand that she expected the IRC would hand down such a recommendation.


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