Nearly 15,000 members of the U.S. military experienced sexual assault last year, the Defense Department’s annual report published Monday showed. While that number is down from a survey two years ago, almost 60 percent of service members deal with significant backlash after reporting assaults to authorities, the report said.
Amid an investigation into a nude photo scandal that has rocked the military this year, the new report showed that 14,900 service members dealt with sexual assault in 2016. The overall figure was lower than the 20,300 in 2014, but the military only received 6,172 official reports—a figure that included victims and those facing criminal investigation—from service men and women in 2016, according to Military Times.
The vast majority of the reports, 5,350, or almost 87 percent of the cases, came from victims. The findings also show continued problems for those who report asaults while in the military, with about 58 percent saying they have felt they were treated like pariahs after reporting.
The frequency of sexual assaults has dropped significantly, according to the DoD’s report. Ten years ago it believed that 7 percent of women and 2 percent of men faced “unwanted sexual contact.” Last year, those numbers dipped to 4.2 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively.
“Overall, this year’s statistical data indicate that the Department is making progress towards its dual goal of reducing the occurrence of sexual assault and encouraging greater reporting of the crime,” the report reads. “In fact, this year’s data suggest that about one in three service members are choosing to report their sexual assault, up from the one in four estimated in 2014 and the one in fourteen estimated…in 2006.”
In 2006, more than 34,000 instances of “unwanted” contact were reported.
But while the military may be seeing a decline in cases and an increase in reports, two of its three academies showed a jump in sexual assault reports during the 2015-16 academic year. In March, it was disclosed that West Point had 26 reports, an increase by 17 from the previous year, while the Naval Academy saw reports climb to 28 from 25. The Air Force Academy experienced a decline of 49 reports, to 32.
Lawmakers have attempted to directly address the problem with legislation, but the most recent effort failed in June. Continuing her three-year battle, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) tried to include an amendment as part of a $602 billion national defense bill that would have put military lawyers in charge of sexual assault cases rather than the “chain of command,” according to Newsday. The measure was viewed as a way to encourage victims to speak out and to reduce potential retaliation.
Gillibrand expressed her dismay at the report in a statement Monday afternoon.
“While DoD touts progress, the truth is that the scourge of sexual assault in the military remains status quo. Today's report disappointedly shows a flat overall reporting rate and a retaliation rate against survivors that remains at an unacceptable six out of ten for a third year in a row. This report does not reflect having the good order and discipline that is essential for our military," her statement read.
“Perhaps most disturbing, this report shows that we have less not more accountability in the military justice system with fewer cases going to trial and with the relatively few that do, fewer cases are resulting in convictions, and six out of ten survivors surveyed are still not reporting assaults committed against them."
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