10 August 2010

SWAN Sets Record Straight on Costs of Military Sexual Assault

Did you know that:
  • 3,230 military sexual assaults were reported in 2009, an increase of 11% from fiscal year 2008?
  • 79% of women serving in the military since Vietnam report experiencing sexual harassment?
  • 62.9% of female combat veterans and 74.5% of female noncombat veterans seeking treatment for PTSD report experiencing a sexual assault while in service?
Military Sexual Trauma (or MST) has become an epidemic in our armed services. So much so, in fact, that the Veterans Administration is now spending more than $820 million annually to treat health-related sexual assault issues among veterans -- the majority of them women.

While the Department of Defense remains largely silent about the pervasiveness of sexual assault in the military -- and about their inability to punish servicemembers committing these crimes (only 8% of perpetrators are prosecuted) -- grassroots groups are now putting pressure on the Pentagon and Congress to take a more hands on role in ending MST.

To help draw attention to the insidiousness of sexual crimes in the military, Ms. Foundation grantee SWAN (Service Women's Action Network) has just released a useful fact sheet [pdf] on MST. In addition to data on the number of crimes committed, and the barriers victims face if and when they seek justice, SWAN also crunches the numbers to show just how much this epidemic is costing the American people each year. "Perhaps when the Pentagon and Congress realize that this issue amounts to millions of dollars of taxpayer money... they might decide to finally do something to curb the epidemic sexual assault and harassment in the military," says Anu Bhagwati, Executive Director of SWAN.

With studies now showing that sexual harassment causes the same rates of PTSD in women veterans as combat does in men, the time has clearly come to put an end to what certainly qualifies as a national disgrace. Kudos to SWAN for doing the hard work and getting the facts straight. Our women and men in uniform are lucky to have advocates like you, fighting on their behalf.

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