WASHINGTON (CN) – The Defense Department released its annual report on sexual harassment, finding that the U.S. Naval Academy experienced its highest rate of reported sexual assaults in at least a decade.
The March 15 report comes as the academy struggles with a related scandal after naked pictures of female Marines emerged on Facebook.
Marine Corps officers are trained at the Naval Academy, where sexual assaults have been steadily on the rise since 2013 after a significant drop in 2012.
Wednesday’s report counts 28 cases of sexual assault at the academy in 2015-16. The U.S. Military Academy meanwhile reported 26 cases for the same period, up from 17 the year before and 11 in 2013-14.
The U.S. Air Force Academy reported the highest number of sexual assaults at 32, but that number is an improvement from last year when there were 49. Sexual assaults at the Air Force have jumped up and down the last few years, with 25 reported cases in 2013-14 and 44 in 2012-13.
Alcohol use led to assaults in a number of cases, according to the report. At the Naval Academy in particular, the Defense Department found that 75 percent of women reporting unwanted sexual contact said it involved alcohol use.
To crack down on this factor, the report recommends, military divisions can limit the availability of alcohol, reduce how much alcohol is served in a given setting, or ban it outright from dormitories.
According to the report, which was conducted via an anonymous survey of cadets and midshipmen, roughly half of all servicewomen at the three academies perceived sexual harassment at some point within the 2015-16 fiscal year.
Women at the Naval Academy led that statistic, with more than 51 percent of them reporting perceived sexual harassment. Only about 12 percent of men at the Military, Navy and Air Force academies reported perceived sexual harassment.
“Cadets and midshipmen are our military’s future leaders,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a statement accompanying the report. “We must foster an environment that rejects sexual assault and sexual harassment, notably during these formative years at our service academies.”
Sexual harassment became a focal point in particular for the Marine Corps earlier this month after members of a private Facebook group called Marines United were found to have shared nude and clothed photos of female Marines, as well as Marine spouses and girlfriends.
After the story broke, an administrator of a newer group called Marines United 3.0 admonished members for adding non-Marine members and lambasted “snitches” who had brought the scandal to light.
If they haven’t served, “DON’T FUCKING ADD THEM!!!” the administrator wrote to members, according to a story in The Daily Beast. “If you see someone and know they are a fucking snitch. Let an admin know. This shit should have never made it to the national news.”
Several members of the Senate Armed Services Committee grilled Marine Corps commandant Gen. Robert Neller about the scandal on March 14. During the hearing Neller said the problem was “in the culture,” and that the number of reported sexual assaults has increased despite up programs to retrain Marines on sexual abuse.
The Defense Department report does not break out assaults against female Marines specifically.
A joint report by the Rand Corp. and Defense Department in 2014 found that nearly 8 percent of women in the Marine Corps were sexually assaulted, the highest percentage of assault in the armed forces.
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