Groups » How Frequently Do Violent Crimes Happen in the Military?

Violent crimes in the military have significant legal and financial consequences for service members, and can alter the lives of their victims and our impression of honorable conduct. Like other individuals in positions of administrative authority, we trust that military personnel will uphold the law and govern themselves by the expectations and legal guidelines established for them.

Every year in the United States, thousands of servicemen and women are court martialed for instances of violence, abuse, and other felony offenses which include accepting bribes, theft, and collusion. In this article, we will discuss some of the most common types of violent crimes which involve military service members, and the programs that are in place to support victims and provide rehabilitation and prevention.

When Did Court Martial Begin in the United States?

It is not difficult to explain why the United States court martial system exists. Despite military training, human beings are capable of opportunistic crimes of poor judgement and sometimes very deliberate criminal intentions, even in spite of being employed within the Armed Forces. Military violent crimes have been an issue since the inception of army and navy troops, but the laws that hold our military personnel accountable are effective and punishments are punitive.

Did you know that trials in the military predate both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence? The first historical example of a formal court martial process dates back to ancient Rome, and was used to prevent gross misconduct, desertion, corruption, and mercenary behavior among Roman soldiers. America drafted the first 'Articles of War' that were loosely based on the military code of ethics established in Great Britain. The Articles of War were not excessively used to bring soldiers to trial during World War I, but in World War II, approximately two million individuals were court martialed, resulting in more than 80,000 felony convictions.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics on Military Crime

One agency is required to maintain records and statistics regarding instances of military crime in the United States. It is a wealth of information for researchers and reveals trends in the data presented regarding the most common infractions for military personnel.

Violent crimes that can result in court martial and legal prosecution for members of the United States military include: Bullying, sexual assault, involuntary confinement, assault and battery, and torture.

One recent study linked higher rates of violent crime and assaults with combat soldiers, and the type of training that they receive. The insightful study was completed by the British military in 2012 and 2013, and surveyed more than 14,000 soldiers who were serving in Iraq. Some of the data were sobering. In the survey, 3,000 soldiers under the age of thirty years had a 20 percent rate of conviction for violent offenses? Non-military men in the same age group had a violent crime conviction rate of 6.7 percent.

The Department of Defense (DoD) Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO)

When you think of the prevalence of sexual assault within the military, do you visualize male assailants and female civilian or non-civilian victims? When you begin to look at the data presented by the SAPRO division and program, you quickly learn that sexual assault is a problem for both male and female military members and civilians, who statistically are victimized at almost equal rates of occurrence.

According to the "Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military 2015," there were 6,083 victims of sexual assault in 2015 alone, which included:

  • 5,240 service member victims.
  • 804 victims that were American civilians and foreign nationals (including individuals not on active duty with the Armed Forces) and 39 victims where data on service member status were not available.
In 2015, the military received 4,584 unrestricted reports involving military personnel and 1,900 restricted reports, where service members were either the perpetrator or the victim of sexual assault. Disciplinary action was taken against 72 percent of military members, but 28 percent of cases were unable to be prosecuted due to lack of evidence, victim withdraw of assault charges, or the death of the prosecuting victim during legal process. The Department of Defense is also currently working on the creation of a 2017-2021 Sexual Assault Prevention Plan.

It is important to note that the DoD SAPRO program manages reporting and prosecution of sexual crimes between adults, per Articles 120 to 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). However, cases that involve minors (children) or spouses of military personnel are processed and guided by the Family Advocacy Program (FAP), which addresses cases of domestic abuse, child neglect, and sexual abuse.

Are Military Members at Risk of Being the Perpetrators of Violent Crime?

Professor Simon Wessely, the co-director of the Centre for Military Health Research at King's College London, indicated that 94 percent of military individuals will return home and not engage in criminal or violent activities. However, he shared that based on the research, it is difficult to deny there is a link between military training and violent crime – either during service or after discharge. The study reported that men who had been engaged in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan were 53 percent more likely to commit violent offenses than fellow soldiers who had served in noncombat positions.

More is being done to prevent military violence, including the implementation of new programs to educate military personnel about violent crimes, sexual assault, and abuse of power in relationships – whether in partnerships or with spouses and children.

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