Pentagon report reveals spike in unwanted sexual contact at military academies

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Students at U.S. military academies experienced unwanted sexual contact nearly 50 percent more often compared to last school year, despite Defense Department efforts to stamp out the issue, according to a survey released Thursday by the Pentagon.

The survey found that 15.8 percent of academy women and 2.4 percent of academy men reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact — including assault and harassment — during the 2017-18 academic year.

That represents roughly 747 students total, up from 507 in the 2015-16 academic year, the last time the survey was taken.

{mosads}In addition, more than 50 percent of women attending the academies reported they were sexually harassed in the school year, up from 48 percent in the previous report. About 16 percent of men reported the same, up from 12 percent.

The results, which were anonymous, were included in the Defense Department’s annual report on sexual harassment and violence at the three service academies, which hold a combined 12,000 students, approximately.

The report “demonstrates that there is more work to be done,” James Stewart, acting under secretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, said in a statement.

“We are resolved to identify solutions that not only benefit our Academies, but also our nation’s civilian institutions of higher learning.”

The survey follows numerous Pentagon efforts to stamp out sexual assault and harassment, including the announcement of a zero tolerance policy. 

The department in June 2017 issued a memo to the academies to develop plans to address four areas identified as “requiring immediate attention.” Those included “promotion of responsible alcohol choices, reinvigoration of prevention of sexual assault, enhancement of a culture of respect,” and improving in reporting of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

The report notes that the results of the survey “do not fully reflect the changes in programming,” as it was given prior to the academies’ implementation of the new plans.

The academies are, however, “using the data to target their efforts,” according to a Defense Department statement released alongside the report.

“It is imperative that we fortify our efforts to promote and sustain safe and respectful climates,” Rear Adm. Ann Burkhardt, director of the department’s sexual assault prevention and response office, said in the statement. “Unwanted sexual contact is one of the most destructive factors in building a mission-focused military, so we all must take a more active role in combating this horrendous crime.”

The survey also found that unwanted sexual contact increased for women at the Army’s military academy at West Point, N.Y., and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Co., though not at the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md.

Estimates for men, meanwhile, only increased at West Point.

The results also were much higher than the number of official reports of sexual assault. West Point, the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy received a combined 92 formal complaints of sexual assault from victims, up from 86 the in 2015-16 school year.

The Air Force Academy saw 21 reports last year, West Point had 48 and the Naval Academy had 23.

Among women who experienced unwanted sexual contact at West Point but didn’t report it, 63 percent said in the anonymous survey they didn’t think it was serious enough to report, up from 46 percent in the last report.

About 66 percent of the women at the Air Force Academy, however, said they didn’t report it because they didn’t want more people to know, up from 39 percent.

Retired Col. Don Christensen, president of Protect Our Defenders (POD), said it is time for President Trump and Congress “to replace military leadership who have failed to stem the tide of sexual assault and harassment.”

“If there was a 15.8 percent casualty rate for our troops, people would demand action, yet there has been nothing done to address the current 15.8 percent sexual assault rate,” Christensen said in a statement. “Holding senior leaders responsible will send a clear message that not only can the academies do better, but they must do better.”

POD, which advocates for military victims of sexual assault, also called on Congress to “hold a hearing and take swift and actionable steps to follow through on decades of unfulfilled promises to fix the problem.”

Lawmakers showed displeasure at the survey’s results, including the heads of the House and Senate Armed Services panels, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) respectively.

Both said the results “do not reflect the large investment of attention, time, and resources dedicated to these problems,” according to letters sent to Stewart earlier this week.

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