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Estimates of military sex assaults skyrocket

| Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 5:33 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Pentagon estimates of how many troops are sexually assaulted show the numbers increased by more than a third since 2010, from 19,300 servicemembers believed to be victims that year to 26,000 in 2012, according to a Defense Department survey to be released this week.

The findings, which the Pentagon acknowledges show that “sexual assault is a persistent problem and there is more work to be done,” emerge at a time when the focus on this abuse within the ranks is growing in intensity. The Air Force reported Monday that its chief sexual assault prevention officer was arrested during the weekend for allegedly groping a woman.

Meanwhile in Congress, legislators are drawing up bills that would take the decision for prosecuting these cases out of the hands of commanding officers and allow military lawyers to decide — a move that military leaders say would hurt their ability to maintain order and discipline. Legislators, however, say that under the system, victims decline to step forward out of concern that their complaints will not be taken seriously.

Twice in recent months, three-star Air Force generals have been under fire for throwing out sexual assault convictions for lower-ranking officers.

According to the Pentagon survey results, only about one in 10 victims who are sexually abused stepped forward to complain last year. That amounted to 3,374 cases in 2012, of which only about 3,000 chose to press charges. “Far fewer victims report sexual assault that are estimated to experience it on an annual basis,” says a written summary of the Pentagon findings.

The full Pentagon report on sexual abuse is scheduled for release some time this week. The summary was provided to USA Today.

The survey revealed that while the rate of men suffering sexual abuse has remained steady since 2010, the rate of female victims increased from about 1 in 23 to 1 in 16 last year.

Air Force officials addressed the latest sex scandal to hit the service: the arrest of the officer who led its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response branch on sexual battery charges.

Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he was “appalled at the deeply troubling allegations” against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, who was arrested early Sunday in Arlington, Va., not far from the Pentagon. He's accused of grabbing the breasts and buttocks of a woman he did not know. He was drunk at the time, according to the police report.

Krusinski will be arraigned on Thursday, Welsh said.

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