Sexual assault reports increased across the U.S. military by 13% last year, and it is continuing as facilities started to emerge from pandemic restrictions and public spaces reopened. This increase was driven mainly by the Army and Navy.
According to U.S. defense and military authorities, a confidential poll of almost 36,000 service personnel found that roughly 20,000 of them had experienced unwanted sexual contact. The increase in such allegations is reflected in this information. The most recent statistics will undoubtedly infuriate senators on Capitol Hill who have been critical of the Pentagon’s attempts to combat sexual crimes and misconduct.
Officials claim that a nearly 26% increase in reports involving Army soldiers is the primary driver of the total increase. It represents the most significant growth for that service since 2013 when such reports increased by 51%.
The Army, failing to fulfill its recruiting goals, is anticipated to miss the target by at least 10,000 — or between 18% -25% — at the end of September. It is particularly troubled by the significant increase. Army authorities have recognized the significance of having parents and other recruit-influencing parties feel confident that their son or daughter would be safe and well-cared for a while serving.
According to army authorities, if parents think their children are at risk of assault, the statistics are frightening and may impact recruiting. They claimed that last year, Army authorities saw the rising numbers and started attempting to implement new initiatives. They claimed that some initiatives are already impacting and that this year has seen a decline in sexual assault and harassment incidents.
Comparing one year to another is challenging due to COVID-19 and the pandemic restrictions. Officials claimed they lacked sufficient information to assess the extent to which the pandemic contributed to the higher reporting and survey numbers.
It has taken the Pentagon and the military services a long time to develop procedures to deter sexual assault and promote reporting. The military has made strides in making it safer and more accessible for service members to come forward, but it has fared much less well in reducing assaults, which have risen almost year since 2006.
According to Army authorities, a training program that soldiers get when they report to their first duty station has shown some results. Soldiers simulate difficult circumstances as part of the program, which stresses instruction on how to react. They added that they are enhancing the evaluation procedures used to evaluate unit leaders, including randomly selecting individuals to administer the tests.
After two years of comparatively modest increases in the number of reports submitted by or involving service personnel, there has been a double-digit overall increase. Reports of sexual assault and unwanted sexual contact increased by 1% in the fiscal year that ended in September 2020, when most of the world was shut down due to the pandemic. Reports increased roughly 3% in the prior year, significantly improving from 2018’s 13% increase.
While many businesses, restaurants, and pubs were closed or had restricted operations in the fall of 2020 and the early months of 2021 due to the extensive restrictions on military travel and mobility, these conditions persisted. As more people received vaccinations in the summer and fall, things started to loosen up, though it’s also unclear whether that increased freedom was a factor in the rise in assault reports.
Every year, the Pentagon publishes a report on the number of sexual assaults involving or reported to personnel. But because sexual assault is a felony that is vastly underreported, the department started conducting a private survey every two years to understand the issue better. More than 20,000 service members reported experiencing some form of sexual assault, according to the 2018 poll, but only one-third of them reported it formally.
Recent Study Estimates
According to the most recent study, which is anticipated to be made public on Thursday and is based on a private poll, it is estimated that roughly 35,800 service members were sexually assaulted in the previous year. Thus, only one in five military personnel reported an incident that occurred the prior year.
Up to 10% of attacks reported by service members each year had placed before their enlistment.
According to authorities familiar with the results, survey respondents also reported increases in workplace hostility and sexual harassment, which can occasionally lead to additional sexual assaults or misconduct. In the service, 1.5% of men and 8% of women reported experiencing some unwelcome sexual contact, per the poll.
According to the survey, a woman in the military had roughly the same chances of experiencing sexual assault as a woman in the general population data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, compared to American society, the risk for men serving in the military is significantly lower.
Defense officials have maintained that the fact that more assaults are being reported is a good sign because so many people are reluctant to do so, both in the military and society. More reports, according to them, indicate greater comfort with the victim assistance system and confidence in the reporting mechanism.
However, it’s unclear if the rise in claims last year reflects a worsening issue or if those claiming they were assaulted more ready to come forward.
Congress has consistently pressed the Pentagon to enhance prosecutions and prevention. Last year, lawmakers shifted specific prosecution authority from commanders to independent prosecutors.
Advocates for victims’ rights and others have suggested that service personnel frequently avoid approaching their commanders with complaints out of fear of retaliation. They are also concerned that if commanders are aware of the accused, they will not pursue some cases. Members of Congress believed that employing impartial prosecutors would improve the process’ fairness and encourage victims to come forward.