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Reports of sexual assault in the military up 50 percent

Obama administration says victims are more willing to report assaults

Reports of sexual assault in the military up 50 percent

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - The Pentagon released new numbers on Thursday that show reports of sexual assault within the military are up 50 percent.

The Obama administration said that doesn't mean there are more assaults, it just means that more victims are coming forward. For the past couple of years, the Obama administration has made it a top priority to combat sexual assault within the military.

A master sergeant with Fort McCoy said rules and regulations are constantly changing for the better in hopes of encouraging everyone to trust the system.

Master Sgt. Matthew Fitzgibbons has been in the military for 24 years and active for about 17.

Now he is an equal-opportunity adviser and sexual assault response coordinator for Fort McCoy, but he admits he spends more time as the coordinator.

"Not because we have more incidences and issues and stuff like that, but because of the training, going out there and talking to the commanders and the units," said Fitzgibbons.

However, addressing sexual assault within the military hasn't always been this way.

"There's a lot of resistance for people to say anything about it because they feel the chain of command is not supporting them, sweeping it under the rug, that sort of thing," said Fitzgibbons.

In the past, when a sexual assault occurred in the military, it was reported directly to the commanders.

"It becomes a problem if it happens to be a commander or someone of power is a perpetrator," said Janise Elder, a behavioral health therapist with Gundersen Health System.

In the state of Wisconsin, if you are an adult and have been sexually assaulted you have a choice whether to prosecute or not.

"In the military there was no choice," said Elder.

"It used to be where for a while it was just if you went to the command or someone else, it was automatically gone through CID and law enforcement," said Fitzgibbons.

Now, victims have a choice. Instead of going straight to their commander, they can talk to the sexual assault response coordinator.

"Then we assist them in any way possible, try to bring them to the hospitals to conduct a safe exam and talking to them," said Fitzgibbons.

It allows the victim to get help without the chain of command getting involved.

"You can go to just certain people in the military and it does not have to be investigated," said Elder.

Although it may not seem like a big change, some say it's enough to encourage victims to get help.

"Being more proactive than what has been in the past, which is being reactive," said Fitzgibbons.

Although the Pentagon's report shows progress within the military, officials believe there is a lack of male victims reporting sexual assault. In the next coming months, officials will put more emphasis on encouraging men to step forward and seek help as well. According to the Associated Press, data show about 14 percent of the reports filed last year involved male victims.

Military officials are also making an effort to take advantage of community-based programs that help victims of sexual assault.

Military personnel and community members held an important conversation on Thursday about helping sexual assault victims within the military. People from both groups attended a one-day training session at Gundersen Health System.

Military officials learned more about the specific programs offered to military victims. Civilians learned more about military protocols in order to help the miliatry effectively respond to the specific needs of victims within its ranks

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