WASHINGTON (CN) – Cases of sexual assault against both men and women in the U.S. military reached a new low in 2016, defense officials announced Monday, although the percentage of incidents that are actually reported is at an all-time high.
However, according to the latest anonymous survey of service members, more than half of the respondents who reported sexual assault said speaking up resulted in further negative experiences, such as “abusive behavior by their co-workers, exclusion by their peers, and/or disruption of their military career.”
The Pentagon said one-third of those “negative experiences” met the survey criteria for retaliatory behavior.
The metrics signal that the military is making progress in its efforts to encourage reporting and prevention, but officials caution that more work remains.
“We do not confuse progress with success,” Dr. Elizabeth Van Winkle, assistant secretary of Defense for Readiness, said at a press conference.
Between 2015 and 2016, the overall number of reported incidents inched up by about 100, from 6,083 to 6,172.
Ten years ago, only 1 in 14 service members reported sexual assault. In 2014, 25 percent reported incidents such as rape and groping.
Last year, that number jumped to 1 in 3.
“However, the hard truth is still far too many people find their lives changed by this crime, and there are far too many that continue to suffer in silence,” said Rear Adm. Ann Burkhardt, the director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.
Burkhardt said preventing sexual assault “is essential to military readiness.”
The Pentagon’s latest annual report on sexual assault in the military shows that the number of total reported incidents dropped from 20,300 in 2014 to 14,900 in 2016.
Of 2,892 cases the Pentagon considered for possible action, 64 percent – or about 1,865 – included evidence that called for commander action. Commanders put just 791 – a little over half – of those cases through the court-martial process, while the remaining offenders received non-judicial punishments or adverse administrative actions, including discharge.
To gather its data, the Pentagon compiled sexual assault reports and survey results from about 150,000 male and 227,000 female service members.
Rates of sexual assault for women dropped from 4.9 percent in 2014 to 4.3 percent last year, while rates for men decreased from 0.9 to 0.6 percent.
The Pentagon said it saw an increase in men reporting, up to 17 percent in 2016 from 10 percent in 2014. However, men said they were less satisfied than women with the support services available to them.
The deputy director for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, Dr. Nathan Galbreath, said the progress the military has achieved in addressing sexual assault and increasing reporting is unmatched in the civilian world.
“We are charting the course for what can be done in this space,” he said.
In 2005, the military established the Sexual Assault and Prevention Program, which focuses on advancing sexual assault prevention, reducing retaliation, assuring a “quality response” to those who report sexual assault and improving the military’s response to men who experience sexual assault.
The Pentagon said it will work to expand prevention efforts and enhance sexual harassment and social media policies as it continues to chip away at the problem.
“The Department is encouraged by the increase in the number of Service members who chose to report their sexual assault in conjunction with the decrease in estimated sexual assault prevalence,” the report says. “Every step closer to reducing this gap brings the Department closer to achieving its goal of eliminating sexual assault from the military.”