Reported incidents of sexual assault at U.S. military academies jumped 18% during the 2021-2022 school year compared to the year prior, according to a Pentagon report released Friday and The Associated Press, citing U.S. officials.
Nearly one in five female cadets at the Army, Navy and Air Force academies said they experienced unwanted sexual contact in the most recent school year, according to the annual report. The number of estimated instances of sexual harassment also grew to 3,939 in the 2021-2022 school year, including more than half of women and one-fifth of men, according to a supplementary survey that compared results to the 2017-2018 academic year. (RELATED: The Navy Quietly Reshuffled The Super Bowl Flyover Team To All-Female Aviators)
The service academies “observed an alarming increase in the estimated prevalence of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and other concerning behaviors. These corrosive behaviors require your immediate attention,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin wrote in an accompanying memo to academy administrators.
A total of 155 students reported sexual assault directly at military academies compared to 131 in the year prior, according to the report.
The largest increase came from the U.S. Naval academy, where reports of sexual assault roughly doubled from 34 to 63, according to a separate report containing additional statistical data and includes instances that occurred prior to military service. The number of reports at the U.S. Air Force Academy increased from 55 to 57, and those at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point remained steady at 50.
The findings also revealed a widespread decrease in trust between students and academy officials, although a majority of students still believed leaders “were making honest and reasonable efforts” to clamp down on sexual harassment and assault, the report stated.
However, despite continuous new initiatives aimed at reducing assault at the academies, reported instances continue to grow, according to the AP.
The total number of reports of assault connected to a student in any way sat at 206, including 35 cases where a cadet or midshipman allegedly assaulted someone who was not a student and 16 that happened prior to joining the academy, according to the AP. Not all reports recorded in the survey reference instances that happened while the cadets or midshipmen were enrolled in the academies, since administrators encourage students to disclose any instance of assault.
Several factors could contribute to the sharp rise in estimated instances of unwanted contact, harassment and assault, according to the report. Alcohol was a prime contributing factor in many cases, while the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions provided more access to local bars and increase opportunity for alcohol-influenced transgressions.
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Some officials argued that increased focus on a persistent problem of sexual misconduct at the military service academies has encouraged more students to come forward seeking assistance, according to the AP.
Congress mandates the Department of Defense (DOD) to provide two reports each year, one detailing sexual misconduct in the armed services and another focusing specifically on the military academies. The Pentagon also conducts a biannual survey collecting anonymous reports, an attempt to fill in gaps in understanding the prevalence of what some DOD officials believe is an under-reported crime, according to the AP.
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