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Military’s Sexual-assault Problem Has Deep Roots

PARRIS ISLAND, SC – MARCH 08: Female United States Marine Corps recruits receive instructions for a training exercise during boot camp March 8, 2007 at Parris Island, South Carolina. The Department of Defense has asked Congress to increase the size of the Marine Corps by 27,000 troops and the Army by 65,000 over the next five years. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (AP) – Sexual assault occurs in many settings, and the perpetrators come from every part of U.S. society.

Yet as recent incidents and reports make clear, it’s a particularly intractable problem in the military, with its enduring macho culture and unique legal system.

Advocates for change say one significant factor is the perception by many victims in the military that they lack the recourses available in the civilian world to bring assailants to justice.

The military insists it takes the problem seriously and has implemented numerous policies and programs to reduce the assaults. But the problem persists.

A recent Pentagon report estimates that 26,000 service members were sexually assaulted last year, up from 19,000 in 2011. Victims reported 3,374 incidents in 2012, and there were convictions in 238 of those cases.

Meanwhile, American military commanders wield substantial power to discipline the troops they lead. But an epidemic of sexual assaults roiling the armed forces has Congress in a mood to rein in their authority.

The only question is by how much?

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other U.S. military leaders are scheduled to testify Tuesday at a Senate hearing on congressional proposals to modify the military justice system. The aim is to staunch the escalating number of sexual assaults that have outraged members of both parties on Capitol Hill.

Military officials say they are open to legislative solutions to a problem they acknowledge is serious. But they also fear too drastic an overhaul might undermine order and discipline in the ranks.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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