The number of active-duty servicemembers coming forward to say they have been victims of sexual assault is up 10 percent over last year, according to an annual Department of Defense report.
The report, which was given to Congress on Monday, covers Fiscal Year 2017. The military has been working to create an environment where
“We consider this large increase in reporting as an indicator that Service members continue to gain confidence in the Department’s sexual assault response system,” acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie wrote in a letter accompanying the report.
“Over the last decade, the department has made progress,” said Elizabeth P. Van Winkle, the executive director of DoD’s Office of Force Resiliency during a Pentagon press conference Monday.
Although more victims are coming forward, the DoD is still facing a retaliation problem. According to the report, “about 40 percent of respondents indicated experiencing negative behaviors consistent with some form of retaliation associated with reporting sexual assault.”
“While the progress we’ve seen provides some comfort, we neither take it for granted nor are we under any illusions that our work is done,” Van Winkle said.
Despite the occurrence of retaliation, the DoD did improve the rate at which sexual assault reports resulted in disciplinary action. About two-third of all DoD sexual assault reports result in the perpetrator facing some type of punishment. The DoD claims that one third of reports are dismissed “due to evidentiary or other factors, such as insufficient evidence of an offense to prosecute, a victim declining to participate in the justice proceedings, or other reasons.”
Secretary of Defense Mattis reiterated the importance of eliminating sexual assault in a memo sent to all military personnel in April of this year.
“Preventing sexual assault is our moral duty,” Mattis said in the memo. “By its nature, sexual assault is one of the most destructive factors in building a mission-focused military,” Mattis said in the memo.
The DoD says that the report is only representative of active-duty servicemembers and that the actual prevalence of sexual assaults — reported or otherwise — is unclear.