Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, is accusing the Defense Department of trying to "pull the wool over Congress's eyes" by downplaying the scope of the sexual assault problem in the U.S. military.
In an annual report released Thursday on the subject, the Defense Department revised downward an earlier estimate of the number of victims who faced retaliation for making claims of sexual assault, saying they may have misinterpreted attempts to help.
Gillibrand accused the Pentagon of failing to hold officials accountable for the crimes and said Congress and the White House will have to take measures to do so.
The senator said senior officials last month "intentionally misled" Congress by falsely claiming that civilian prosecutors declined to prosecute 93 sex assault cases.
"Now they are undercutting their own findings from last year's report on the massive retaliation problem against service members who reported being sexually assaulted with a survey that their own report calls 'not representative'," she said in a statement Thursday.
In its report, the department estimated that some 20,000 personnel experienced a sexual assault, but little more than 6,000 reported the crime, suggesting that about 75 percent of sexual assault survivors "did not have the confidence in the military justice system to report [the] crime," according to Gillibrand.
During a presentation on the report at the Pentagon, Dr. Nathan Galbreath, senior executive adviser to the Defense Department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said authorities brought action against 1,437 offenders. The vast majority of those, or 926, were recommended for a court-martial, while 303 received nonjudicial punishments and 208 were discharged or received adverse administrative action.
Of the 543 subjects whose cases went to trial last year, 413 were convicted for various offenses, including 161 for penetrating offenses, 93 for sexual contact offenses, and 159 of some lesser nonsexual offenses such as fraternization, adultery, making a false official statement, and others.
Gillibrand noted the numbers of assaults and reported assaults were essentially unchanged from 2014. She also said the report finds that alleged retaliators against reporters of sexual assault were in the victim's chain of command, and that the report "appears to not list any court martial proceedings in relation to retaliation against a sexual assault survivor.
"The status quo is not working, and frankly, I am deeply disturbed by the tactics the DoD is undertaking to pull the wool over Congress's eyes," she said. "Congress and this Administration must step up and bring accountability where the Department of Defense has repeatedly failed."