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updated 7/28/2013 7:17:12 PM ET 2013-07-28T23:17:12

USA Today’s Kelly Kennedy nterviewed soldiers who were sexually assaulted while in the service who said they did not know who to report the attacks to. In some cases, speaking out about the assaults threatened their careers.

An estimated 500 U.S. soldiers are sexually assaulted each week and, last year, 3,374 service members reported sexual assaults. About 90 percent of service members didn’t report unwanted sexual contact. That’s more than 3,374 members of the armed forces who have been sexually assaulted by one of their own.

Last month, Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York proposed an amendment to take cases of sexual assault out of the review of the chain of command. The amendment caused a rift in the Democratic caucus, with Gillibrand’s colleague, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri arguing that it’s not necessary to completely remove the cases out of the chain of command completely.

USA Today’s Kelly Kennedy joined MSNBC’s Alex Witt on Sunday to discuss her latest article . Kennedy interviewed soldiers who were sexually assaulted while in the service who said they did not know who to report the attacks to. In some cases, speaking out about the assaults threatened their careers.

Some commanders have handled the problem by ignoring it.

“There aren’t supposed to be any assaults in your unit, so one of the ways to make sure you don’t have sexual assaults in your unit, is to not report them,” she said.

Commanders also use intimidation and threats to keep reports hidden, Kennedy said.

“I think this is a cultural problem, if you [soldiers] do anything that falls out of line, they [commanders] can make your life miserable on a daily basis,” she said.

Sen. Gillibrand’s amendment needs 51 votes to pass the amendment.

Video: Kennedy: 500 assaults a week in military and number's going up

  1. Closed captioning of: Kennedy: 500 assaults a week in military and number's going up

    >>> in the dugout, and the tirade continued after he was ejected.

    >> the heat is firing up after how to handle military sexual assault . kristen gillibrand has a bill that will take it out of the chain of command , and there was a news conference thursday to speak out against the plan by other lawmakers.

    >> what the victims are telling sus that they don't trust the chain of command , and they are not reporting the cases, because they don't believe that justice can be done, and of the people who do report, 62% are being retaliated against.

    >> we believe that the only way to hold command accountable is to make them responsible, and not the completely remove their responsibility. we believe that is a recipe for disaster.

    >> well, joining me now is kelly kennedy from " usa today " whose new article paints a searing portrait of how sexual assault affected three service members. kelly , with a welcome the you, let's get right to the two of the women that you interviewed whose stories really get to the heart of the problem. swun a recently graduated air force cadet and the other was forced out of the navy and so what happened to them? sdwl

    >> well, the air force cadet was raped by a man whom she had been dating for a month, and after he assaulted her he said, i did that to hurt you. she said, no, no, no repeatedly, and then he said he had done it to hurt her. she didn't report it for a while, and then when she decided to report it after she had heard it happened to several other cadets, she didn't know where to go. and what i find shocking about this case is that she's a future leader in the air force and here she is a cadet at the academy, and she doesn't know where she is supposed to go the report it, because she says that the training is so bad, and they laugh about it, and there is just isn't any follow-up, and it happens in stressful situations when they are in basic training or dealing with a bunch of other training, and she didn't know where to go. the other situation is a case of a woman in the navy, and her name is michelle johnston and she came out on the record about this, and while she was in the navy, her shipmates handcuffed her to parts of the boat and dumped urine on her, and to me, that is horrifying in itself, but more horrifying, she said she didn't report it, because everybody already knew. her chain of command already knew what was happening and if they were not stopping it, what was the point of her reporting it? and later in her service she had a service member underneath her who was raped by someone else who worked for her. and within an hour of her going to the person she was supposed to report it to, she was told that her career was over with, so, she went through the proper channels and reported it within her chain of command , and she was told immediately that her own career was over because she had reported a rape within her unit.

    >> you also report on a man who his report on a gang rape of a female soldier that went nowhere, but then he, himself was a victim, and yet the woman was immediately kicked out. i mean -- double standard here? is this common?

    >> i think that probably what happened there was that he was still in training when he was assaulted. i think that was probably a cates where they were getting her out quickly, and she was misbehaving to try to get out of the military, but what is interesting about his case is that he served in iraq and he had two women in his unit die, and he watched them die in combat, and then back home, he sees a woman who is gang raped in the barracks and several men come forward saying this is wrong and they testified and said what had happened and nothing happened. the men got off scot-free.

    >> so kelly , when we talk about keeping this issue in front of those in the chain of the command, and as senator mccaskill says to hold them accountable, that sounds great, if they would behave in an accountable way. what -- these three people that you talked to, what do they think should happen and anything to say that those in chain of command will behave appropriately?

    >> well, the victims advocates i talked to said there are really great commanders who address the problem, and when they do, it filters down. and michelle said that when she was being handcuffed to the ship, there was finally one person who spoke up. and that helped. so if you have people who are willing to come forward and stand up for people who are being assaulted, or harassed, that is great, but it does not seem to be across the board. the advocates are saying that the same thing, and they have good commanders and commanders who don't know what to do. they aren't lawyers, and they don't, they don't understand how the process works. it is a this cadet, similarly, as a future leader of the air force doesn't know what to do. it is a great idea, but you 500 assaults a week in the military and they are doing up. so if this is a problem for 40 years, why, why are they suddenly now going to be able to address it.

    >> and the question i have, these commanders covering it up and dismissing the reports, they cannot be acting on their own accord and so how high up does the directive come up?

    >> i don't know fit is a directive, but what i have i heard is that you should not have sexual assaults in your unit, so one of the ways to make shure that you don't have sexual assaults in your unit is not report them. so that is creating a problem. so that has definitely been a problem b through is the a cultural issue that people don't understand. in the military if you are a young person in the military and you probably live in the barracks and your direct boss probably lives in the barracks as well. they control when you eat, when you leave work, when you go on vacation, when you get a promotion, and so, if you do anything that falls out of line, they can make your life miserable on a daily basis. so it is really easy to say, don't do this, or else. it is a cultural thing.

    >> yeah. it is problem, too. and kelly kennedy from " usa today ."

    >> thank you for having me.

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