WASHINGTON (CN) – In its first report to include details on alcohol use, the Pentagon reported Thursday that sexual harassment at U.S. military academies rose by nearly 50 percent since the last year’s survey.
More than half of the anonymously reported cases — ranging from groping to rape — involved heavy alcohol use, and the Pentagon said multiple barriers are still causing a number of assaults to go unreported.
Though reported cases increased only slightly in the 2017-18 report, up to 117 from 112, this time more than 700 students enrolled in military academies reported having experienced unwanted sexual contact. Of those many hundreds, only 92 reported the abuse to officials.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who belongs to the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that the disparity between reported and unreported cases is “a clear sign” that sexual assault victims did not “feel confident in the military’s ability to adjudicate and prosecute these crimes without retaliation.”
Sexual violence among women in particular remain high: 50 percent of the 3,200 women enrolled reported experiencing sexual harassment, and nearly half of female victims from the survey said their attack could have been stopped by a bystander.
The survey’s new alcohol measurements also showed that 32 percent of men and 15 percent of women have five or more drinks on average when partying. A quarter of the women and 28 percent of the men also said they’ve blacked out at least once while drinking this year.
The report, required by Congress every two years, echoes findings from the 2017 results, which also revealed a rise in sexual misconduct numbers across the academies. The numbers suggest that strategies implemented to improve the misconduct numbers weren’t effective.
Pentagon Director of the Office of Force Resilience Elizabeth Van Winkle called the report “frustrating, disheartening and unacceptable.”
“While we are disheartened that the strategies we have employed have not achieved the results we had intended, we are not deterred,” she said in a briefing to reporters.
Defense Department officials, including Van Winkle, said academy leadership is responsible for the steady lack of improvement curbing the issue. “Our cadets and midshipmen must model the ethical behavior we demand of our future officers,” Van Winkle said. “But it is leadership’s responsibility to ensure they have the moral courage to demonstrate this behavior.”
Some efforts to stem the rise in drinking and drinking-related assaults have fallen short of producing change. In one program at the U.S. Naval Academy — which the report says proved “ineffective” in decreasing alcohol abuse — midshipmen were given three drinks and dinner during alcohol trainings on their 21st birthdays.
In an email to Courthouse News, U.S. Naval Academy spokesman Cmdr. David McKinney said curbing sexual misconduct is a “top priority” of the Naval Academy, and that officials will continue exploring solutions with experts and resources. “Our end goal is an environment where sexual assault and harassment is eliminated from our ranks,” McKinney said.