By Ian Swanson - 12/27/13 01:47 PM EST
The number of reported sexual assaults in the military increased by more than 50 percent this year, according to a report by The Associated Press.
Citing early data, the AP said there were more than 5,000 reports of sexual assault filed during the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30. That compares to 3,374 in 2012.
It’s unclear why the number of reported sexual assaults would rise so substantially, but the issue has been a focus of the military all year. That could have lead to an increase in the number of people reporting assaults.
Congress approved legislation in December that would require the Pentagon to change how it deals with the issue. Critics argue victims of sexual assault in the military do not come forward because they fear their claims will not be taken seriously.
The Pentagon estimates that as many as 26,000 people in the military were the victims of sexual assaults or rapes last year, but that only a tiny fraction came forward with reports.
The Defense bill signed into law by President Obama on Thursday would bar military commanders from overturning jury convictions in sexual assault and rape cases. It would also make it a crime to retaliate against people who report rapes and sexual assaults.
The bill did not go as far as proponents led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) had wished, however. She wanted to remove military commanders from being involved in rape and sexual assault cases.
Opponents, led by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), successfully stopped Gillibrand’s amendment in a fight that divided both parties.
The AP story said defense officials asked about the data said the number of actual incidents has remained largely static, based on surveys and focus groups.
“Given the multiple data points, we assess that this is more reporting,” Col. Alan R. Metzler, deputy director of the Pentagon's sexual assault prevention and response office, told the AP. He also noted that more victims are agreeing to make official complaints, rather than simply seeking medical care without filing formal accusations.