Sexual assault rates in the military have fallen over the past decade, according to a Pentagon report released Monday, even as more service members than ever are reporting assault. And while the results may seem contradictory, the Pentagon contends that both actually demonstrate “progress” in the military’s attempts to recognizing and curbing sexual assault.
According to the report, a 2016 survey of the entire military force found that an estimated 14,900 service members were sexually assaulted — a sharp decline from 2006, when some 34,200 members were estimated to have been assaulted.
This year, military authorities also received 6,172 reports of sexual assault in fiscal year 2016, which is about a 1.5 percent increase from 2015. But such an increase in reporting is “an indicator that victims are gaining confidence in their leaders and response personnel to provide them with the care they need and hold alleged perpetrators appropriately accountable,” A.M. Kurta, performing the duties of the under secretary of defense for personnel and business, wrote in a letter to Congress attached to the report.
In 2006, only one in 14 sexually assaulted service members reported the incident. Today, about one in three do. But not everybody saw the report as indicative of progress.
“The truth is that the scourge of sexual assault in the military remains status quo,” said Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, in a statement. “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.”
Almost two-thirds of both male and female service members who reported assault said they experienced reprisal or mistreatment after reporting their assault, the report found.
The report also follows the revelation earlier this year that veteran and active Marines shared and solicited hundreds of nude photographs of female service members in a private Facebook group called Marines United. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigated the group, and is reportedly in the midst of deciding whether to punish more than 30 Marines.