Sexual Assault in the Military and Camp Lejeune's Prevention and Response Program

May 24, 2013

Reports of sexual assault in the military are at an all-time high.  We speak with Senator Kay Hagan and the program manager with Camp Lejeune’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program to find out what’s being done to assist victims and reduce military assault.  

Sexual assault in the military is making national headlines.

"Not only is it shameful and disgraceful, its going to make and has made the military less effective than it can be."

Sexual assault reports among military members is a growing concern.  The Department of Defense released a report on May 7th announcing a series of actions to prevent and respond to sexual assault in the armed forces.   In fiscal year 2012, there were a total of 3,374 reported cases of sexual assault involving service members as victims or subjects, a six percent increase the previous year.

“The alarming fact is that the number of cases actually reported is just a fraction compared to what the sexual assault really is.”

Last year, the Pentagon estimated that up to 26,000 men and women service members were assaulted in unreported incidents.

“sexual assault in our military is a crisis and we need immediate action.”

North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan attended a bipartisan meeting at the White House earlier this month with some of the president’s top advisors to discuss the issue.  

“Three of the senators were former prosecutors who have actually handled a number of sexual assault cases in the civilian world. And over the last 20 years, great progress has been made in the way sexual assault cases have been treated and handled in the civilian world and I think the military justice system needs a wakeup call to look at what’s happening in the civilian world and bring those best practices along those areas into the military.”

Sen. Hagan says one path to change is through new and pending legislation.  On Wednesday, a House panel approved a bill that would take away the authority of commanding officers to change or dismiss court-martial convictions in rape and assault cases.  This decision comes on the heels of a sexual abuse case that received national attention.

“This happened just recently, where a case actually had a guilty verdict and a jury verdict and the commanding officer set it aside… just, the fact that that would never be able to happen in the civilian judicial system.”

On May 5th, the head of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office in Fort Hood Texas was arrested for groping a woman in a parking lot in Arlington, Virginia.  The Air Force has since removed Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski from the position and is investigating the incident.  On Tuesday, The Army announced the suspension of Brig. Gen. Bryan Roberts at Fort Jackson South Carolina over allegations of assault and adultery.  In response to recent allegations of criminal behavior by military recruiters and service members, a press release from the US Department of Defense states that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the services to retrain, re-credential and rescreen all sexual assault prevention and response personnel and military recruiters. 

Camp Lejeune, the largest military installation on the East Coast has another distinction, as receiving the most reports of incidents of sexual assault in 2012.  The number surpasses reports of sexual assault for other military installations worldwide.  

 “By sheer number of people here, I’m not surprised that we have the largest number of reports of sexual assault.  I don’t think it’s any indication that this is a dangerous installation.”

Marie Brodie is the Installations sexual assault response coordinator for Camp Lejeune.  She manages the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, which has been in operation for the last eight years. 

“For fiscal year 2012, we had 128 cases reported aboard our installation.”

So far this year, Brodie says there are 73 open, unrestricted cases under investigation.  Of those, 67 victims are female and six are male. About a third of reported sexual assault cases at Camp Lejeune occur in the barracks on the base.  

“We have seen an increase in the number of reports of sexual assault and it’s very difficult to put your finger on why we have that increase and if it means there are more sexual assaults occurring or if it means there are more people coming forward and reporting.”

The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program seeks to eliminate sexual assaults within the Corps and to assist Marines and sailors affected by sexual assault.  There are multiple portals of entry into the program.  A victim may call the 24 hour helpline, they may also report to the Naval Hospital or go directly to law enforcement.  In any case, a uniformed victim advocate will assist personnel with reporting an incident.

“The civilian victim advocate is going to talk with them about reporting options both restricted and unrestricted. Restricted meaning you can still get support thru medical, you can get counseling, you can use a victim advocate, you can go and talk to the Chaplin, but law enforcement won’t be involved and your chain of command won’t be informed.  The second option is unrestricted, which means again you can have counseling, advocacy, medical support, and your chain of command will be notified so they can offer you support, and law enforcement will be notified.”

An investigation by the NCIS at Camp Lejeune will start immediately after a case is reported.  The length of investigation and sentence vary widely, and there are no concrete numbers according to Brodie.  But if a case were to go to a general court martial, and the person was found guilty, she says they could receive a five year prison sentence.

“They would most likely get a dishonorable discharge from the United States Marine Corps, they might have to register as a sex offender, they would most likely get a reduction in rank, they would have forfeiture of pay.”

In addition to providing assistance to victims of sexual assault, the program is designed to educate Marines and sailors on how to identify and report sexual abuse.  Last year, the “Take A Stand” training course was offered.

“Every non-commissioned officer in the entire United States Marine Corp had to receive this three hour course of instruction that teaches marines and sailors what sexual assault is, how it happens, the M.O. of an offender, how to detect behavior that is inappropriate and could lead to sexual assault. The Marines and sailors are also taught how you can intervene, how could you stop something if you saw some inappropriate behavior, or some behavior that look like it might lead to a sexual assault.”

Brodie believes the training is one reason for the increase in reported cases of sexual assault at Camp Lejeune.

“Those courses are taught by our uniformed victim advocates who are one of those people who have confidentiality and can take reports of sexual assault.  So our Marines and Sailors saw, this is someone I can come to and talk to, this is someone I can trust and tell this report of sexual assault to.”

As new legislation is introduced, lawmakers hope to put the brakes on the problem of sexual assault in the military.  Now in committee, legislation sponsored by Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill would require a dismissal or a dishonorable discharge for a member of the military found guilty of rape or sexual assault.   According to a press release, it would prohibit a commander's ability to vacate or nullify a jury verdict and would require a commander to provide written justification for any decision commuting or lessening a sentence following a guilty verdict in a Court Martial.   Jared Brumbaugh, Public Radio East.