The Army is grappling with a resurgence of cases in which troops responsible for preventing sexual assault have been accused of rape and related crimes, undercutting the Pentagon’s claims that it is making progress against sexual violence in the ranks.
Last month, an Army prosecutor in charge of sexual assault investigations in the Southwest was charged by the military with putting a knife to the throat of a lawyer he had been dating and raping her on two occasions, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.
A soldier at Fort Sill, Okla., who was certified as a sexual-assault-prevention officer was convicted at a court-martial in May of five counts of raping a preteen girl.
Army officials confirmed to The Post that eight other soldiers and civilians trained to deter sex offenses or help victims have been investigated over the past year in connection with sexual assault. The Army would not provide details, saying that many of the investigations are pending.
In August 2016, a lawyer who worked for the Army walked into the Comanche County Courthouse in Lawton, Okla., to seek a protective order against a man she had been dating: Capt. Scott Hockenberry, who handled cases at Fort Sill and other posts in the region.
The woman alleged in court papers that their relationship had turned violent and that Hockenberry had raped her three times over the previous month. She also alleged that he had placed a knife against her throat during one of the assaults and injured her jaw on another occasion, according to her protective-order application.
- Hockenberry disputed the allegations and has filed a defamation claim against the woman in state court in Oklahoma, documents show.
- The Army reassigned him to the Military District of Washington and conducted a lengthy criminal investigation.
- Last month, it charged Hockenberry with sexually assaulting the woman on two occasions, placing a knife against her throat and striking her in the face, according to military charging documents obtained by The Post.
- Lawyers for both sides say the case has attracted notice at the Pentagon, given the nature of Hockenberry’s job.
“We categorically deny all of the allegations made by this accuser. Period. Full stop,” said Will Helixon, an attorney representing Hockenberry.
The Post’s policy is not to identify victims of sexual assault or abuse in most cases.
In 2013, the Air Force’s chief sexual-assault-prevention officer at the Pentagon was accused of groping a woman outside a bar. He was later acquitted by a civilian jury but reprimanded by the military. An Army sergeant in charge of helping sexual assault victims at Fort Hood, Tex., was convicted of pandering for pimping female soldiers.
Meanwhile, reports of young women being assaulted by uniformed recruiters began to pile up.
With angry lawmakers in Congress demanding a crackdown, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the armed forces in May 2013 to retrain and rescreen tens of thousands of military recruiters and sexual-assault-prevention officers.
Despite the new measures, incidents kept happening. Five months after Hagel’s order, a soldier attending a sexual-assault-prevention conference in Orlando was accused of getting drunk and raping a woman he met at his hotel. The Army investigated but did not file charges because the woman declined to cooperate.
The military has invested millions of additional dollars in sexual-assault-awareness programs. Training is mandatory for everyone in uniform. Top brass have promised to redouble their efforts to punish offenders and protect victims.
Last year, the Defense Department received 6,172 reports of sexual assault in the ranks — a new high and almost twice as many as were reported in 2010. Pentagon officials have called the increase an encouraging sign that more victims are willing to come forward and trust the military to help them.
To tackle the problem, the Army employs 650 full-time sexual assault response coordinators and victim advocates, plus 2,200 others who work part-time.
In the past year, eight of them have been accused of sexual assault, triggering criminal investigations by a combination of military and civilian authorities, said William J. Sharp, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.
Officials from the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Air Force told The Post that none of their personnel involved in sexual assault prevention have been investigated for sex crimes over the past year.
The Army adopted new standards in 2013 for screening sexual-assault-prevention personnel, drill instructors, recruiters and others who hold positions of “significant trust,” Lt. Col. Jennifer R. Johnson, an Army spokeswoman, said.
The standards are more stringent than what the Defense Department requires, Johnson said. Still, the Army has decided to review them again “to determine if any changes are required.”
“As Army professionals, we expect everyone on our team to live and demonstrate the Army values every day,” she said in an email. “Every allegation of sexual assault, from an unwanted touch over the clothing to a forcible rape, is investigated. . . . The Army strives to hold all offenders accountable for their actions no matter their position or rank.”