#MeToo is growing to the point that it is difficult to imagine where or when the sexual harassment and attack revelations will end.
Think you aren’t a victim? Well, there’s been an unwanted hand reaching in to your pants pocket — not for gratification, but to take $15.2 million just to hush 235 Capitol Hill workers who said they were molested by members of Congress between 1997 and 2014.
Against that backdrop, the Freedom of Information Act fight that the News-Democrat waged with the U.S. Department of Defense for more than a year is especially surprising.
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Most people would guess that sex crimes in the military are growing, often shielded by a culture that forced victims to face the officer buddies of their attacker. But the numbers finally released by the DOD show the opposite.
In 2006 there were 34,000 reports of sexual assault. In 2016 the number dropped by more than half, to 14,900. Men reported most of the attacks a decade ago, but women reported the most in 2016.
The good news is that reports were low at Scott Air Force Base. They were disturbingly high at two bases where many of our new recruits are trained, Fort Leonard Wood and the Naval Station Great Lakes.
Numbers dropping is especially curious after a change in military policy in 2013 that allowed victims to access medical, mental and legal help without notifying their commanders or cops of the attack. You would have expected the numbers to grow.
So if the numbers are correct, is it because the military culture is correcting itself, because there is some new disincentive for reporting an assault or because perception and reality don’t always match up.
Before you start feeling good about our military, consider that reports of sexual attacks in the military are far greater than if you are a member of the general populace. A decade ago about 1 in 40 military folks were reporting sexual assault. Now it is about 1 in 100. For the U.S. as a whole, the rate of reports is about 1 in 2,500.
And just as there is a cost for congressional sexual assault or misconduct, other sex attacks also cost everyone: $122,461 per victim when law enforcement, property, health care and lost work are factored in. That would be $15.2 billion just for the victims who made police reports in 2015, and sexual assault is a notoriously underreported crime.
The military is a society governed by rules and regimens, yet that structured culture has all too many fractures that create lifetimes of victimhood. Being aware of the issue when you or someone near you is considering military service, and the promised data about the most troubled bases, gives us information that can be used to change the culture.
Just as #MeToo exposing attackers’ dirty little secrets can change the culture in Hollywood, Washington and maybe a workplace near you.