By Nikki Gaskins firstname.lastname@example.org
MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) Claims of sexual abuse in the military are nothing new, according to reports from the U.S. Department of Defense. Those same reports show claims have increased by 46 percent in the last year.
Some critics say the military provides a quiet culture for sexual abuse to thrive.
"Commanders, before some foreign policies were changed, had a lot of incentives to hide it because if it came out that a sexual assault happened within their unit, it would look bad on them," said Pamela Jacobs, who has worked closely with the People Against Rape, a Lowcountry organization committed to providing support and services for victims of sexual assault.
Jacobs is a survivor of sexual abuse and serves as an advocate for victims of the crime, including those in the military.
"For people in the military, there's this feeling that, 'I should have been stronger, I should have been able to fight him or her off,'" she said.
In the past, Jacobs said cases of sexual abuse were covered up with victims fearing the loss of their job or reputation.
"A lot of times, victims have told me they didn't want to be a troublemaker. They didn't want to start trouble for the unit," she said. "For someone who's raped in combat, there's a fear that if they come forward and talk about what's happened to them that they may be forced to go home."
But she said as more women join the military, how these cases are handled, is dramatically changing.
"We're seeing people be accountable much more," she said. "The commanders no longer have authority to decide if something is prosecuted or not. They have to go up higher than that."
Jacobs also said service members are now required to take part in training that teaches them how to prevent sexual abuse.
The Department of Defense launched an App called 'Safe Helpline' which is designed to provide support for sexual assault victims in the military.