By David Alexander
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of sexual assault cases reported to U.S. military authorities edged up last year, with most involving a member of the armed forces attacking another, the Pentagon said in an annual report released on Friday.
The 3,192 cases in 2011 amounted to a 1 percent increase over the 3,158 reported in 2010.
Some 56 percent of the cases involved one service member attacking another, 26 percent a member of the military attacking a civilian, 6 percent a civilian attacking a service member and 12 percent an unidentified person attacking a service member, the report said.
Despite an increased effort by authorities to address the problem and highlight the issue with the annual report, figures on sexual assaults in the military have remained largely unchanged.
U.S. Representative Jackie Speier, an outspoken critic of the military's handling of sexual assault cases, said the report showed "regrettably, more of the same," with cases up and prosecutions and punishments down.
"All of the important numbers are going in the wrong direction," said Speier, who advocates taking sexual assault cases out of the hands of the military's chain of command and putting them under the jurisdiction of a special office made up of military and civilian experts.
"This report shows that prevention classes and sensitivity training are not enough to solve the problem of rape and sexual assault in the military," she said.
AGE, RANK, ALCOHOL
Reporting of sexual assaults in the military is divided into two groups: restricted cases, which remain confidential and about which little information is available, and unrestricted cases, which are investigated and prosecuted through normal military channels.
Of the 2,439 unrestricted reports of sexual assault, 31 percent were charges of rape, 30 percent charges of aggravated sexual assault and 25 percent allegations of wrongful sexual contact. The remaining allegations involved a range of other sexual crimes.
The victims of sexual assaults tend to be women under age 25 in the lower ranks of the service, according to figures from the unrestricted reports. About 12 percent of the victims have been male, versus 88 percent female.
Assailants are overwhelmingly male - 89 percent. Two percent are listed as female and 9 percent are categorized as unidentified.
The report said data indicate that excessive drinking is linked to many cases. The military has focused much of its effort to reduce assaults on promoting responsible alcohol use.
The Army has consistently led the other services in the proportion of sexual assault reports, usually running about 2.5 per thousand, as it did in 2011.
The Marine Corps has had the lowest reporting rate, about 1.3 per thousand, while the Air Force and Navy both reported 1.6 per thousand in 2011.
Among unrestricted cases, 67 took place in Iraq and 115 in Afghanistan.
(Editing by Xavier Briand)