Sexual assault study by base must be released by Pentagon, senators say

Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Republican Sen. Joni Ernst are demanding that the Pentagon release a report that rates the risk of sexual assault at military bases around the world.

Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Ernst, R-Iowa, wrote to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis after USA TODAY reported that the Pentagon has delayed release of the report for months, citing the methodology used by the nonpartisan, federally funded RAND Corp. RAND stands by the report, and a spokesman said its results have been peer-reviewed.

"Transparancy and accountability are critical in addressing the continued challenge of sexual assault in the military," wrote Gillibrand and Ernst, who are members of the Armed Services Committee. "Since this type of information is available, the Department should not only release it, but also use it to better understand what it can do at the installation level to be more effective in preventing and responding to sexual assault."

The report's findings will likely cause controversy at military bases that run the highest risk of sexual assault. The report's authors relied on data and surveys collected in 2014.

"We should take advantage of the fact that RAND chose to take this additional step of using the data to assess risk of sexual assault by military installation to provide more information to service members and their families as well as to help the services better deal with this scourge at the installation level," the senators wrote.

The military has struggled to combat sexual assault in its ranks for decades. In 2014, a Pentagon survey of troops found that more than 20,000 troops had endured assaults ranging from groping to rape. Two years later, the number of troops reporting inappropriate sexual contact had dipped below 15,000.

The 2014 survey sparked congressional hearings that featured appearances by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Legislation followed, including changes in the way the military treats victims and prosecutes those accused of sex crimes.

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