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
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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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