US military reports major spike in sex assaults

Pentagon officials commemorate Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month in March 2015Pentagon officials commemorate Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month in March 2015

The US military has reported a major spike in sexual assaults despite years of efforts to address the problem.

Figures show 20,500 instances of unwanted sexual contact occurred in 2018, up from 14,900 in 2016 which is the last time a survey was conducted.

Alcohol was involved in one third of cases, and female recruits ages 17 to 24 are at the highest risk of attack.

On Thursday, Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan directed the military to “criminalise” sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment can fall within other legal violations of military behaviour, but is not yet a “stand-alone” criminal offence.

The directive from Mr Shanahan was among a series of other recommendations, released in a memo on Thursday.

“Sexual assault is illegal and immoral, is inconsistent with the military’s mission and will not be tolerated,” he wrote.

In the US, sexual harassment is illegal, considered a form of sexual discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which also covers discrimination based on race, skin colour, religion and national origin.

What does the report show?

The report released on Thursday surveyed the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, and estimated a total of 20,500 cases in 2018.

The total figure is based reports of attacks as well as an extrapolation of survey data which was gathered through a poll of over 100,000 troops. Researchers say the survey has a 95% level of confidence.

Incidents of unwanted sexual contact – which ranges from groping to rape – rose by around 38% between 2016 and 2018.

Only one out of three cases were reported to authorities, the report found.

In 2006, only one in 14 victims reported sexual assault crimes, the Pentagon said.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the Marines acknowledged they had “historically viewed an increase in reporting as an indicator Marines feel more empowered to report more confident in the care victims receive”.

“However, with the number of estimated assaults rising, especially among our young Marines, the Marine Corps must evolve its prevention methods and continue to foster a climate and culture of dignity, respect and trust,” the statement said.

In more than 85% of cases, victims knew their attacker. The majority of cases involved young women whose attacker was often a superior officer.

The report should be “a trip wire”, said Nate Galbreath, Deputy Director of the Department’ of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.

“This is what tells us that there’s something going on that we need to hone in on,” he told ABC News.

“We’ve got a higher prevalence for women 17 to 24. We’re going to be focusing very, very tightly on that.”

What is the reaction?

Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s personnel panel, told the USA Today newspaper that the military “must accept that current programmes are simply not working”.

“Congress must lead the way in forcing the department to take more aggressive approaches to fighting this scourge,” she said, calling for intervention from US lawmakers.

On Thursday, Mr Shanahan revealed some of the recommendations made by the Sexual Assault Accountability and Investigation Task Force, which was created last month after the urging of Senator Martha McSally.

Senator Martha McSally: “I was ashamed and confused”

Senator McSally, who was the first female US fighter pilot to fly in combat, revealed in March that she had been raped by a superior officer while serving in the Air Force.

In response to the report, Mr Shanahan directed the US Department of Defence “criminalise” sexual harassment “to combat this scourge”.

He detailed prevention, accountability and support efforts in order to “eliminate” sexual assault, including new methods of identifying repeat offenders.

“We must, and will, do better,” he wrote in the memo.

It is unclear if he would need congressional approval to make changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice – the US military’s legal code, to make the offence a “stand-alone crime”.

In his memo, Mr Shanahan also announced plans to train commanders in a new programme to uncover serial sex offenders.

“To put it bluntly, we are not performing to the standards and expectations we have for ourselves or for each other,” Mr Shanahan said.

“This is unacceptable. We cannot shrink from facing the challenge head on.”

In a series of tweets, Gen Robert B. Neller, the highest ranking officer in the US Marine Corps, joined in condemning the behaviour captured by the study.

According to the report, compared with the Navy, Army, Air force and Coast guard, the Marines had the highest rates of sexual assault throughout the US Armed Forces – sitting at 11%.

“Marines know that sexual assault is a crime,” Gen Neller wrote. “We are better than this.”

Democratic Senator and 2020 presidential contender Kirsten Gillibrand also responded on Twitter, calling on Congress to take action where the defence department has “repeatedly failed”.

Sen Gillibrand has been an outspoken advocate of victims of sexual assault and has pressed for legislation to make it easier to prosecute sexual violence in the military.

In her tweets, she cited a 2013 statement from the chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – the highest US military post – that called sexual assault in the military a “crisis”.

Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton accused of sexually assaulting reporter

NBA coach Luke Walton

Luke Walton is accused of sexual assault during his time as assistant coach at the Golden State Warriors

A National Basketball Association (NBA) coach is being sued for the alleged sexual assault of a sports reporter, US media report.

In the lawsuit, obtained by TMZ and ESPN, Kelli Tennant alleges Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton forced himself on her in a California hotel room.

At the time he was assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors, another California NBA team, says the lawsuit.

In a statement, Mr Walton’s lawyer called the accusations “baseless”.

According to legal documents obtained by US media, Ms Tennant met Mr Walton in his suite at the Hotel Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica to give him a copy of her 2014 book.

Sports reporter Kelli Tennant
Kelli Tennant worked as a broadcaster on Spectrum SportsNet at the time of the alleged incident

Mr Walton had written the foreword to the publication, The Transition: Every Athlete’s Guide to Life After Sports.

No specific date for the alleged incident was stated in the lawsuit, according to US media.

The two had reportedly had a working relationship, stemming from Mr Walton’s time as a guest on Spectrum SportsNet, a US regional cable sports channel where Ms Tennant used to work.

She also knew Mr Walton’s wife, according to US media.

The legal action says Ms Tennant had viewed Mr Walton as a “trusted mentor and colleague”, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Kelli Tennant's Instagram page
A photo from Ms Tennant’s Instagram page, which has been flooded with comments following the suit

Upon Ms Tennant’s arrival at the hotel, the lawsuit reportedly says, Mr Walton invited her to his room, ostensibly so they would not be seen by any Golden State Warriors players.

Once inside the suite, the legal action says that Mr Walton “pinned Ms Tennant on the bed, placing his hips and legs over her body”, before groping her chest and groin, according to US media who have reviewed the court documents.

“She was afraid she was about to be raped,” the legal action reportedly says.

According to US media, Mr Walton’s lawyer released a statement categorically denying the allegations.

“The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim, and her claim is not credible,” said Mark Baute.

Mr Walton was hired this month by the Sacramento Kings, after leaving the Los Angeles Lakers, where he had been head coach since 2016.

Mr Walton had previously played 10 seasons for the Lakers, before beginning his NBA coaching career with the Golden State Warriors in 2014.

All three teams responded to the allegations.

The Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors said they were aware of the report and had no further comment.

The Los Angeles Lakers statement said the alleged incident took place before he became their head coach.

“At no time before or during his employment here was this allegation reported to the Lakers,” it said.

“If it had been, we would have immediately commenced an investigation and notified the NBA.”

Since news of the lawsuit broke, Ms Tennant, a former volleyball player for the University of Southern California, had her Instagram page flooded with comments, many of them abusive.

ESPN reports the NBA has launched an investigation of its own into the alleged event.

Sexual Predator/Comic Louis CK makes fun of the Parkland School Shooting survivors.

Louis CKLouis CK wrote, directed and acted in I Love You Daddy

Survivors of the Parkland school shooting in Florida have hit out at comedian Louis CK after he was heard poking fun at them in a stand-up set.

The leaked audio apparently came from one of his comeback routines a year after he admitted sexual misconduct.

In it, he ridiculed the Parkland pupils who have become anti-gun activists.

Survivor Ryan Deitsch tweeted: “It’s a shame when you sink so low that your comeback plan is to make fun of school shooting survivors for speaking out.”

Another survivor, Sofie Whitney, said he “must be really intimidated by us kids”.

Alex Wind said the audience members who could be heard laughing and clapping at Louis CK’s jokes were “just as much at fault”. And Delaney Tarr, who had to hide in a cupboard from the gunman, added her voice.

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed in February’s shooting, suggested the comic “come to our house and try out your new pathetic jokes”.

Jaime was one of 17 people who were killed when a 19-year-old expelled former student opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on 14 February.

A group of students went on to set up the campaign group March For Our Lives to lobby for tighter gun control measures.

In his routine, Louis CK could be heard making fun of the survivors, saying: “Why does that make you interesting? You didn’t get shot. You pushed some fat kid in the way, and now I’ve got to listen to you talking?”

A version of the comic’s expletive-laden set was posted on YouTube on 30 December.

Louis CK’s career took a downturn after he admitted several instances of sexual misconduct in November 2017. He said he had “wielded power irresponsibly” and could hardly wrap his head around the “scope of hurt” he had caused.

His statement also said: “I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want. I will now step back and take a long time to listen.”

That time seems to be up, however, and he returned to performing low-key shows in comedy clubs in August.

Part of the leaked routine also included criticism of young people identifying as gender neutral and people with learning difficulties.

The BBC has contacted Louis CK’s lawyer for a response.

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