Military Sex-Assault Inquiries Need Change, Watchdog Says

More than one in 10 Defense Department investigations of sexual assaults had “significant deficiencies,” such as uncollected evidence, incomplete crime-scene examinations and inadequate witness or victim interviews, according to the Pentagon’s inspector general.

After reviewing 501 sexual-assault cases completed in 2010, the Defense Department’s watchdog office recommended changes to improve crime-scene processing, evidence collection and supervision. While 11 percent of those cases had “significant deficiencies,” the remainder met or exceeded investigative standards, the inspector general said in a report issued yesterday.

The adequacy of military investigations has come under increased scrutiny as the Pentagon tries to quell an uproar over its handling of sexual assaults, most of which go unreported.

A Pentagon survey of active-duty troops released in May estimated there were 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact last year, compared with 2,949 victims identified in criminal reports. The issue led to congressional hearings after military officers working in sex-assault prevention programs were charged with assaults themselves.

The inspector general’s report said its review of 56 cases uncovered deficiencies in investigative practices that “likely affected the outcome.”

The investigations were conducted by the Army Criminal Investigative Command, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

Inconsistencies Cited

The thoroughness and documentation of investigative interviews needs improvement, the watchdog agency said. Many investigations “did not clearly establish the elements of the offense and did not resolve investigative inconsistencies in statements provided by victim(s), witnesses, and subjects/suspects,” the report found.

The collection of physical evidence also needs improvement, according to the report. It said military policies don’t require the collection of clothing articles that a victim or suspect may have worn shortly after an assault, if different from what was worn during it.

The report also calls for better records checks and timely notifications of sexual-assault response coordinators.

Army Major General David Quantock, commander of the Army Criminal Investigative Command, said in a written response to the inspector general that 93 percent of his command’s investigations were judged adequate. He said his command issued guidance in response to the report “re-emphasizing the need to conduct timely and thorough sexual assault investigations.”

Susan Raser, executive assistant director for criminal investigations at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said the inspector general’s probe evaluated investigations against standards that didn’t exist in 2010, when the reviewed cases were completed. She said the report will still be used “to further enhance adult sexual-assault investigations.”

An Air Force memo issued in response to the inspector general agreed in part with some recommendations while taking exception to some elements.

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