Sexual assault reports in the military rose a whopping 46 percent during the last fiscal year the Pentagon reported on Thursday. According to an independent panel, there were 3,553 reported cases of sexual assault from October 2012 through June 2013, or about three-quarters of the fiscal year. In 2012, there were 2,434 reported cases.
It is unclear, the Associated Press reports, whether the rise is due to an increase in instances of sexual assault, or higher frequency of victims reporting the crimes, or both. The number of reported cases increased in each of the branches of the military. According to the AP, Defense Department officials framed the increase as a “sign that people are more confident about coming forward now that improvements are being made to the military's system for handling assaults.” The Pentagon, however, also acknowledged that the actual number of sexual assaults may still be several times higher due to reluctance to report the crimes.
The Senate is set to take up a proposal to change how sexual assaults are dealt with by the military justice system in the coming weeks. The proposed legislation, the AP reports, “would remove commanders from the process of deciding whether serious crimes, including sexual misconduct cases, go to trial, and it would give that authority to seasoned trial lawyers who have prosecutorial experience and hold the rank of colonel or higher.”