Reported Sexual Assaults Decreasing at Military Service Academies

But officials say its unclear if it is because assaults have decreased or fewer victims are coming forward.

National Journal
Jordain Carney
Jan. 10, 2014, 12:38 p.m.

Al­though a new re­port shows a de­crease in the num­ber of sexu­al as­saults at two of the three U.S. mil­it­ary ser­vice academies, it’s un­clear wheth­er the res­ults re­flect a drop in the num­ber of at­tacks or if few­er vic­tims are com­ing for­ward.

A total of 70 sexu­al as­saults were re­por­ted at the academies between June 2012 and May 2013, ac­cord­ing to the De­fense De­part­ment’s yearly re­port on sexu­al har­ass­ment and vi­ol­ence in the academies, which was re­leased Fri­day. This com­pares with 80 sexu­al as­saults re­por­ted from the 2011-12 aca­dem­ic pro­gram year (APY) re­port re­leased last year.

Fifty-three of those 70 sexu­al as­saults oc­curred to ca­dets and mid­ship­men while they were in mil­it­ary ser­vice, and 11 oc­curred be­fore­hand, ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey. An­oth­er five cases were re­por­ted by ci­vil­ians al­leging that they were sexu­ally as­saul­ted by a ca­det or mid­ship­man. The Nav­al Academy showed a slight up­tick in re­ports of sexu­al as­sault in the 2012-13 APY com­pared with the pre­vi­ous sur­vey, but the num­ber of re­por­ted sexu­al as­saults de­creased at the Mil­it­ary Academy and the Air Force Academy in the same time peri­od.

However, “the de­part­ment can­not de­term­ine wheth­er the [over­all] de­crease in re­port­ing this year at the ser­vice academies was due to few­er as­saults oc­cur­ring or few­er vic­tims opt­ing to re­port,” said Army Maj. Gen. Jef­frey Snow, dir­ect­or of the Pentagon’s Sexu­al As­sault Pre­ven­tion and Re­sponse Of­fice.

Sep­ar­ately, the Ser­vice Academy Gender Re­la­tions Sur­vey — a bi­en­ni­al study — re­ports the num­ber of ca­dets and mid­ship­men that ex­per­i­ence un­wanted sexu­al con­tact dur­ing the pre­vi­ous year. That sur­vey was not re­leased in 2013. 

Peer pres­sure and ser­vice-academy cul­ture con­tin­ue to play a role in pre­vent­ing sexu­al-as­sault vic­tims from com­ing for­ward, the re­port re­leased Fri­day found. Sexu­al as­sault is con­sidered one of the most un­der­re­por­ted crimes both in­side and out­side of the mil­it­ary. The De­fense De­part­ment’s defin­i­tion of sexu­al as­sault does not in­clude sexu­al har­ass­ment.

Eliza­beth Van Winkle, with the De­fense De­part­ment’s Man­power Data Cen­ter, said that a 2012 de­part­ment sur­vey found that 80 to 90 per­cent of fe­males at the ser­vice academies re­por­ted that they ex­per­i­enced crude, of­fens­ive, or sex­ist be­ha­vi­or dur­ing the pre­vi­ous 12 months.

“This is your typ­ic­al lock­er-room talk,” she said, re­fer­ring to the of­fens­ive be­ha­vi­or. Van Winkle said that fo­cus groups told of­fi­cials the rates seemed ac­cur­ate, and “many said we’re sur­prised it’s not high­er.”

Su­per­in­tend­ents of the mil­it­ary academies are ex­pec­ted to sub­mit a plan on how to over­come sexu­al as­sault and change the cur­rent cul­ture by March 31.

Snow said it was his goal to “re­duce, with the in­tent to elim­in­ate, sexu­al as­sault in the mil­it­ary. It’s a daunt­ing task. I’ve lost a lot of sleep in my first week on the job.”

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