Military sex assault cases at an all-time high

Education efforts could lead to higher reported numbers

 UPDATED 6:28 AM HST May 13, 2013
HONOLULU -

In 2013, there have been three sexual assaults reported to the Air Force at Joint Base Hickam/Pearl Harbor. Experts say that is just a small number of military sexual assaults believed to have taken place in the islands.

Nationally, there are calls to reduce this crime, now at an all-time high for the armed services, but some feel the increased numbers are because more survivors are speaking up.

Hawaii-based servicemen and women face hazardous deployments and bravely go into battle zones, but in the past many military survivors of sex assault have not brought these crimes to light.

"It takes a lot of courage to report. They have to overcome various barriers like guilt and shame. It's the most under-reported crime there is," said Shari Freeman, a sex assault response coordinator at Joint Base Pearl Harbor/Hickam.

Yet estimated numbers have increased dramatically across the entire U.S. Military. Going from 19,000 sexual assaults of service members two years ago to 26,000 in 2012, according to the Department of Defense.

"Sex assault is a despicable crime and one of the most serious challenges facing this department," said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

The huge increase has Hagel calling for more sex abuse prevention and education programs.

At Hickam, the Air Force has recently added another course for airmen.

All service members are now required to learn about sexual assault and how to prevent, stop and report the crime.

In addition to anonymous call-lines, counselors like Freeman are able to help on a one-on-one basis -- even walking survivors through the steps of a criminal investigation.

Freeman feels the reason sexual assault numbers have increased so much is because more people are actually reporting it now.

"They're learning what to report. Some people don't know the definition of sexual assault and now they know the different ways to report," said Freeman.

Hawaii's military bases have been undergoing changes when it comes to handling sexual assaults, but the biggest changes counselors have seen are from individual service members.

"One of the major things that I've seen is the survivors, instead of blaming themselves, put the blame on the offender -- where it belongs," added Freeman.

Freeman said right after a new sexual assault education class or prevention program starts up, they usually see an increase in reported cases.

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