Sexual Assault Defense in the Military

This month, the U.S. Defense Department released its Annual Report of Sexual Assault in the Military. According to the report, the number of service members reporting sexual assault – involving either victims or perpetrators, or both – increased in the past year by nearly 10% (from 6,172 to 6,769) when combined across all four of the military branches: Army, Navy, Air Force and the Marine Corps.

However, the report also revealed that sexual assault in the military overall has decreased substantially in recent years based on scientific surveys of the military population. For active duty women, the surveys showed annual rates of sexual assault have decreased by one-half. For active duty men, rates have decreased by one-third. Some of the reports in the scientific survey referred to sexual assault incidents that took place before the person reporting the incident entered the service.

As in civilian courts, rape and sexual assault cases can be complex, and both victims and offenders may want to engage the services of an experienced military sex crimes attorney to help navigate through the process with the intent to gain the best possible outcomes for their situation.

Protecting the Men and Women in Service

At a press conference this month, a representative of the Defense Department said the reason for the increase in sexual assault reports is due to an increased number of servicemen and servicewomen deciding to make reports and get help (both victims and offenders). The military has increasingly encouraged victims to report sexual assault incidents, and it appears to be working.

It is likely that the recent #MeToo campaign and the national attention on sexual harassment [KF1] and sexual assault have given more victims of sexual assault in the military the confidence to come forward, just as more victims in the civilian world have been coming forward with stories of improper or criminal sexual behavior.

The department appears to take incidents of rape and sexual assault very seriously and has put several safeguards in place to protect men and women in the military from these types of crimes. According to the Defense Department press release, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis wrote in a memo that sexual assault, by its nature, is “one of the most destructive factors in building a mission-focused military.” He said eliminating this type of behavior is a priority because the negative effects of sexual assault can reduce a military unit’s readiness to fight well. It also affects the military’s ability to recruit and retain quality candidates for the service, he said.

This report from the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Forces provides a snapshot of the types of military sexual harassment and sexual assault incidents that can take place.

All branches of the military are expected to increase prevention initiatives going forward in an attempt to reduce the number of rapes and sexual assaults that take place in the military. According to the press release, special efforts will be made to increase reporting by male service members, who might be less likely to report the crimes. In addition, the military will make efforts to reduce retaliation, which is defined as action taken to harm a person who reports a crime.

Consequences of Rape and Sexual Assault in the Military

Any rape or sexual assault is a devastating experience. Depending on the type of assault, the degree of violence, and the specific laws that have been broken, legal consequences for those accused and convicted can include both incarceration and civil monetary penalties. The nonlegal and nonmonetary consequences can be just as devastating as a legal judgement. These consequences include loss of reputation, jobs, and respect.

In some cases, in the civilian world, people who are accused of sexual assault lose professional licenses, clients, or friends, even if they are not convicted. Those who are convicted are required to register with national sex offender directories.

When sexual assault occurs in the military, there can be similar consequences to accused civilians: incarceration, monetary penalties, sex offender registration, and the loss of reputation.  However, in addition to sexual assault charges, military sex crimes offenders also could receive a court martial, nonjudicial military punishments, adverse administrative actions, and/or a bad conduct discharge from service.

The nonlegal and nonmonetary consequences tend to be more intense in the military. Loss of rank is another potential consequence of a military sexual assault conviction.

According to the Department of Defense’s press release, in fiscal year 2017, 772 cases of sexual assault reported by members of the military found no evidence of sexual assault but resulted in disciplinary action for other misconduct uncovered during investigations.

False accusations in military sexual assault cases

With the increased pressure to convict military sex criminals, there has been a decrease in efforts to prove false accusations. False accusations happen for a variety of reasons. The accuser may want to get the accused in trouble with the law intentionally as retaliation for some other behavior, even though a crime has not been committed. The accused and accuser may have different understandings of consent. False accusations may be complicated by UCI, as well.

False accusations of military sexual assault often are revealed during the investigation or litigation of a sexual assault case. Berry Law offers this article about false accusations, with many elements that apply in military cases as well.

Defense of sexual assault allegations in the military

Whether in a civilian or military court, a sexual assault accusation must be taken seriously. In addition to the same consequences an accused suffers in a civilian case, military cases tend to attract the attention of the media, and the resulting high profile can make a case more difficult to defend. Earlier this year, CNN reported on several high profile cases, including some that allegedly have been mishandled. The sympathy the public may feel for an alleged victim also can make it more difficult to defend the accused.

Sexual assault attorneys specializing in military cases must demonstrate knowledge of both sexual assault defense and the rules and culture of the military. An experienced military sexual assault defense attorney can help protect the rights of the accused and defend them against UCI, false accusations, manipulation of facts, witnesses who do not tell the truth, and other unique complications.

If you or someone you know has been accused of rape or sexual assault in the military, call Berry Law and ask to speak to one of our lawyers who specializes in military sex crimes.

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