Jan 11, 2023
Reports of sexual assault in the U.S. military spiked by 13% from the previous fiscal year, according to an Associated Press (AP) report. The jump was driven largely by significant increases in reports of sexual assault among Army and Navy members, as bases were no longer under pandemic restrictions and public venues reopened, the AP reported.
The Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military 2021 confirmed the following statistics:
Overall, the military received 8,866 reports of sexual assault in fiscal year 2021, according to data from the annual report. The previous year, the military received 7,916 reports of sexual assault.
The total number includes:
The fiscal year covered in the report was from October 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021, and the rates of increase are comparing fiscal year 2020 statistics to fiscal year 2021 statistics, CNN confirmed.
While the increase in sexual assault reports cited above is disconcerting, a confidential survey conducted by the military indicates a greater prevalence in incidents as well as a larger systemic issue impacting all branches.
According to the confidential survey:
The survey is conducted by the military every two years and used to estimate the wider prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault. However, as CNN reported, “it also includes such instances that occurred before a service member joined the military or committed by someone outside the military.”
Department of Defense Office of Force Resiliency Executive Director Elizabeth Foster said during a briefing at the Pentagon Thursday that combating sexual assault is a top priority. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has called sexual assault a “scourge” within the military, and Foster confirmed that the secretary recently sent a Department of Defense-wide memo with a renewed call to action to “redouble efforts to address sexual assault in the military.”
Department of Defense officials said during Thursday’s briefing that the U.S. military has to “move from drawing awareness to the issues of assaults within the military and among the services to doing a better job preventing them,” according to CNN.
The data on sexual assaults from the 2021 report shows a “significant increase in sexual assault prevalence” in the military, Foster said Thursday.
“The results are a tragic reminder of the challenges we face and the absolute need for continued leadership engagement, historic reforms that remain underway, and a focus on the latest in prevention so we can achieve the foundational change we need,” Foster added.
Foster also confirmed that the prevalence rate – where military service members noted if they had experienced unwanted sexual contact – indicates the “highest sexual assault prevalence rate since the department started measuring sexual assault prevalence in 2006” for women and the “second highest prevalence rate for men.”
The report also confirmed the following U.S. military sexual assault statistics:
The report on the increase in sexual assaults “is a blow to the Army,” CNN reported, noting that the military branch is “already struggling to meet its recruiting goals.”
“In a July memo, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth and Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville acknowledged the service may have as few as 445,000 soldiers by the end of next year, significantly lower than the goal of greater than 460,000,” CNN said.
Last year, Defense Secretary Austin directed an Independent Review Commission to provide the department with recommendations on how to tackle the problem, according to CNN.
The Pentagon then proceeded to carry out a plan to adopt all of the commission’s 80 recommendations in September 2021.
“We have heard loud and clear from our victims that the conditions in the force are unacceptable right now,” a Defense Department official said during Thursday’s briefing. “That is why we are making unprecedented resource investments to get after this problem.”
Some of the recommended changes being implemented include:
In addition, Defense Department Office of Force Resiliency Senior Prevention Advisor Dr. Andra Tharp told CNN that the department is moving from an awareness-based prevention approach to a more action-based prevention method by establishing new policies and procedures through both the commission recommendations and the changes made in the NDAA.
“When we talk about prevention what we’re referring to is stopping a violent act before it occurs, either by increasing those conditions or factors that protect against that violence from occurring or decreasing those conditions or factors that increase the risk for the violence occurring,” Tharp said. “This is different from an awareness-based prevention that has been part of the department’s advocacy work for the past two decades.”
While the Pentagon has been under pressure from Congress to improve both prevention of sexual assaults and prosecution of sex crimes, many estimates indicate that such incidents are significantly underreported.
“Victims’ rights advocates and others have argued that service members don’t trust the system and are often unwilling to go to their commanders with a complaint for fear of retribution. They also worry that commanders may not press ahead with some cases if they know the accused. Members of Congress argued that using independent prosecutors would make the process more fair, and make victims more comfortable coming forward,” according to CBS News.
As the AP report noted, the overall findings from the 2021 U.S. military sexual assault report indicate trends consistent with the general population.
“Officials said the survey suggested that, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a woman’s chance of being sexually assaulted in the military was about the same as a woman in the general population. But for men, the risk for those in the military is much lower than in U.S. society,” the AP reported.
In February, a Defense Department report confirmed that claims of sexual assault at U.S. military academies increased by 25%, while claims of sexual harassment increased by 150% during the 2020-2021 academic year (when compared to the previous academic year).
Sexual assault statistics confirmed from that report included:
Of the 161 reports of sexual assault where cadets and midshipmen attending the military academies were the victim or alleged offender:
Of the 30 sexual harassment complaints made in the 2020-2021 academic year:
“We recognize this is a troubling problem, it’s a horrible thing to have to experience, and we are here to help make sure that it happens less often and that victims get the kind of care and support,” Nate Galbreath, the Defense Department’s Acting Director of the Sexual Assault Response Office, said at the time of the report’s release.
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