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Sex assault victims in military more likely to step forward

WASHINGTON — Reporting of rape and other sexual assaults in the military is up by 50 percent, according to a Defense Department report that was released Thursday. White House and Pentagon officials said it was a welcome sign of increased confidence among victims that recent steps by military leaders show the Pentagon is taking these cases seriously.

But critics said there was no way to know whether the increase in reporting simply means that there were more sexual assaults, because unlike in the previous two years, the Defense Department did not estimate how many sexual assaults took place overall in 2013. “Prevalence” surveys estimated that there were 19,000 sexual assaults in 2011 and 26,000 in 2012. Despite those numbers, there were only 3,192 reported assault cases in 2011 and 3,374 in 2012.

By contrast, the number of reported cases jumped to 5,061 in 2013. But “since today’s report does not include a total estimated number of crimes committed, it is impossible to draw any conclusions regarding the number of increased reports,” said Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y. Gillibrand unsuccessfully pushed a bill early this year that would have removed sexual assault cases from the military chain of command.

Nonetheless, Gillibrand said the latest report “should send chills down people’s spines,” because even the known numbers show that less than 1 percent of reported cases — just 484 out of the 5,061 — proceed to trial. Of those, there were 376 convictions.

—Helene Cooper, The New York Times

Toronto mayor takes leave after admitting alcohol abuse

TORONTO — Citing “a problem with alcohol,” Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said late Wednesday that he was temporarily stepping aside from his duties as mayor and from his re-election campaign.

The statement from the embattled mayor followed the online appearance of a still photograph from a video that The Globe and Mail said appears to show Ford smoking crack cocaine last weekend. The Toronto newspaper said that two of its reporters were shown the video by “a self-professed drug dealer” who was trying to sell it.

He made no reference to crack or other illegal drugs in his statement Wednesday. Instead he said that he had been unable to control his problem with alcohol.

—Ian Austen, The New York Times

GM sales advance 7 percent,

Despite a steady drumbeat of negative news surrounding the recall of 2.6 million small cars with a deadly defect, General Motors continues to be unaffected in its showrooms.

Car sales for the nation’s largest automaker rose 7 percent in April over the same month a year ago to 254,076, the company said Thursday. The increase follows a 4 percent increase in March, which was the first full month since GM began recalling the cars in February for a defective ignition switch that it has linked to 13 deaths.

Sales numbers were mixed for the domestic automakers; Chrysler stood out with a 14 percent increase in sales, and Ford declined 1 percent.

Overall for the industry, sales were up 8 percent over April of last year, with 1.39 million vehicles sold in the United States for a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 16 million vehicles, according to Autodata.

As in March, healthy overall growth suggested that some car buyers had postponed their purchases during the bad weather over winter.

—Rebecca R. Ruiz, The New York Times