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Military’s new sex survey called ‘intrusive,’ ‘invasive’

Lolita C. Baldor Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Shocked and offended by explicit questions, some U.S. servicemen and women are complaining about a new sexual-assault survey that hundreds of thousands have been asked to complete.

The survey is conducted every two years. But this year’s version, developed by the Rand Corp., is unusually detailed, including graphically personal questions on sexual acts.

Some military members told the Associated Press they were surprised and upset by the questions, and some even said they felt revictimized by the blunt language. None of them would speak publicly by name, but Pentagon officials confirmed they had received complaints that the questions were “intrusive” and “invasive.”

The Defense Department said it made the survey much more explicit and detailed this year in order to get more accurate results as the military struggles to reduce its sexual assaults while also encouraging victims to come forward to get help.

The survey questions, which were obtained by the Associated Press, ask about any unwanted sexual experiences or contact, and include very specific wording about men’s and women’s body parts or other objects, and kinds of contact or penetration.

“We’ve had a number of complaints,” said Jill Loftus, director of the Navy’s sexual assault prevention program. “I’ve heard second- and third-hand that there are a number of women, officers and enlisted, who have gotten to the point where they’ve read the questions and they’ve stopped taking the survey. They found them to be either offensive or too intrusive – ‘intrusive, invasive’ – those are the words they used.”

About 560,000 active duty, National Guard and Reserve members were invited to fill out the questionnaire – about five times the number the survey was sent to two years ago.

Early last year, a report on the 2012 anonymous survey results set off a furor when it estimated that 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted or subjected to unwanted sexual contact. Exasperated members of Congress complained that the Defense Department wasn’t doing enough to combat sexual assault and tried to force changes in the Pentagon’s legal and command procedures.

Some major changes were enacted, such as stripping commanders of the ability to overturn verdicts and strengthening protections for victims. But other potential changes – such as keeping defendants’ commanders completely out of the process – are still not law.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who has pressured the military to deal with its sexual assault problem, said changing the survey questions could skew the study over time.

“I am concerned the new survey was done in a manner that not only prevents comparing apples to apples from previous years. … I hope this isn’t a case of, ‘If you don’t like the answer, change the question.’ ”

In addition to the Rand questions, Loftus said the Navy sends its own survey to sailors and Marines that doesn’t get as specific. She added, “We think we’ve done a very good job of trying to make people aware of what sexual assault is.”

But Rand analysts say the more detailed questions are necessary. So does Nate Galbreath, the senior executive adviser for the Pentagon’s sexual-assault prevention office.

“This is a crime of a very graphic nature,” Galbreath said. “For us to improve our understanding, it sometimes requires asking tough questions.”

“Research has told us, if I ask someone, ‘Have you ever been raped?’ they will say, ‘No,’ ” Galbreath said. “If I ask that same person, ‘Have you ever been forced to engage in sexual activity against your will?’ they might say ‘Yes.’ It’s because of the loaded terms like rape and sexual assault, that it’s not very clear to a lot of people what we may be asking about.”

The report on the 2012 survey showed sexual assault incidents rose from about 19,000 in the 2010 survey to 26,000.

Those totals far outdistance the number of sexual assaults that are actually reported by members of the military.

According to the latest report, the number of reported sexual assaults jumped by 50 percent last year as the military worked to get more victims to come forward.

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