Pentagon officials said this week they don't have enough information to determine the extent of retaliation experienced by sex assault victims after reporting their cases to superiors.
Major General Camille Nichols, Director of the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said officials do not know how much recent retaliation there is. But she said they do know, from surveys taken last year, that service members are sensing a “backlash” happening to them.
“So we know that people are experiencing things. It’s human nature to feel differently about yourself and also to be seen differently by others,” Nichols said. "So we don’t have the best approach to categorize the issue. We want to see it. We want to understand it."
A retired Air Force master sergeant told CNN that, after reporting his abuse, the retaliation was “devastating.”
Thomas Shockley told the news channel he was sexually assaulted at the U.S. Air Force Base in Ramstein, Germany, in 2010.
"I was removed from my unit and the sergeant who was there to keep an eye on me would constantly mock me," he told CNN. "... My attacker was able to peer at me in the office where I sat."
Shockley said he felt abandoned and was asked to do demeaning tasks such as pick up trash and cigarette butts from the air base parking lot.
"The mind set is still that if you report, you will be shunned, pushed aside and no longer part of your unit," he told CNN.
In an annual report on sexual assault among active service members released Thursday, officials said they recognized there is a problem and have developed ways to address retaliation against victims.
Despite the substantial increase in reporting over the past 10 years, the report estimated a significant number of sexual assaults go unreported.
Dr. Elizabeth Van Winkle, principal investigator for the research efforts, told VOA that from available data, military officials estimate about two thirds of service members who reported their sexual assault had negative experiences.
“This is critical to ensure we provide supportive services to victims throughout the process and educate the force on how to respond appropriately to members who report an assault," Van Winkle said.
The Pentagon is intensifying efforts that directly address retaliation. Nichols said officials want to provide tools for those who would step forward to say something is wrong and eventually reduce their concerns about retaliation. They want to get people empowered to come forward and report sexual assault.
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Military officials said about 40 percent of female victims report a crime against them and nearly 20 percent of the reports were from military men. They said reporting the crime is essential to the ability of the military branches to provide services for victims and hold offenders accountable.
Allegations of inappropriate behavior must be treated with the “utmost seriousness,” Nichols said.
The report called for creation of a sexual assault prevention plan of action, the increase of reporting through leadership engagement, and creation of a plan to address male victimization.
“We stay committed to eliminate these crimes from our ranks,” Nichols said.