Military Sexual Assaults Cost More Than $872 Million
Business + Economy

Military Sexual Assaults Cost More Than $872 Million

REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

The Veterans Affairs department spent almost $872 million in 2010 to deal with the health impacts of sexual assaults on former military personnel.

This figure is based on the $10,880 dollars the Veterans Administration spends to treat each sexual assault victim after he or she leaves the service. The $872 million does not include costs for victims still in the military.

In 2011, the last year that information on sexual assaults is available, 3,192 cases were reported to Pentagon brass. Former defense secretary Leon Panetta estimated nearly 20,000 occur each year within the military. According to a 2011 military health survey, one in five soldiers said they had been touched inappropriately since joining.

It’s not clear how much the Pentagon spends dealing with these attacks. But because of the nature of how the military deals with sexual assault allegations, it’s likely that it costs the Pentagon tens of millions of dollars.

“It’s bound to be more than we would ever guess given the number of people who are coming forward, both women and men, reporting that they’d been sexually assaulted,” said Deborah Tucker, executive director of the National Center of Domestic and Sexual Violence. “They’re eligible for six visits with a counselor before it’s given to their command. They get caught up in the military’s own sexual assault office staff at each installation.”

“If you start counting all of that, plus medical costs, because I’m sure people are getting not only forensic exams and ongoing care for injuries sustained, it’s a staggering number,” Tucker added.

In recent months, after years of ignoring or covering up sexual assaults, advocates have made great strides in raising awareness of sexual violence in the military. After an Air Force colonel’s sexual assault conviction was overturned and the officer was transferred away from the victim, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a review a military law governing rape cases.

“These changes would increase the confidence of service members and the public that the military justice system will do justice in every case,” Hagel said earlier this month.

But Congress is demanding more. A recent report commissioned by lawmakers found that rape cases often lead to cases of post-traumatic stress disorder and recommended DOD to more to combat them. The report also made clear that the military would be paying for these PTSD cases long after soldiers left the service.

“Increased efforts by DOD are necessary, and a zero-tolerance approach should be implemented," the Institute of Medicine said in its report. “Previous wars have demonstrated that veterans' needs peak several decades after their war service.”

Recently, the military began to speak about sexual assault not as a legal or moral problem, but one of readiness, A Navy myths and facts worksheet published in 2012 lists the belief that rape does not hurt readiness as a myth.

“The crime of sexual assault takes an immeasurable toll on the victim and diminishes the Department of Defense’s overall capability by undermining core values, degrading mission readiness, subverting strategic goodwill, and raising financial costs,” the Navy wrote in the worksheet.

But rape is clearly not a budget priority. The program that deals with rape prevention – the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Program – has a budget of just $14 million dollars.

DOD has never aggregated the total costs of dealing with all aspects of sexual assault. This includes counseling, costs related to the trial, medical care while the victim is still in the military, and costs of imprisoning soldiers who are found guilty.

Much of the media attention this issue has received concerned cases in which women were assaulted. But according to the military, the majority of sexual assaults – 56 percent - actually involve men.

Tucker said the Pentagon must act to remove the stigma attached to these attacks. Many men and women are ashamed and refuse to come forward. They also fear that reporting the assault could hurt their military careers.

She added that the military must put more money into prevention programs that stop assaults before they happen.

“The emphasis has to be more and more on prevention and to explain to people that any time they push someone to engage in contact with them that’s not given with consent, it’s assault,” she said.

One such prevention effort was unveiled this month. The Pentagon paid an undisclosed amount to WILL Interactive, a Maryland firm that makes interactive movies, to create a video game in which soldiers are confronted with choices while drinking at a bar. The goal of the game, called Team-Bound, is to educate soldiers on what constitutes sexual assault. DOD likes it so much it’s ordered a sequel.

But advocates dismissed the game as a waste of money.

“For decades, leaders in our military have thought that they can end the epidemic of sexual assault in the military simply through training programs," Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, told NBC News. "Not only is it a waste of taxpayer dollars, it is affront to victims of sexual assault."