Sexual assault and harassment cases up significantly at military service academies despite prevention efforts, Pentagon survey finds

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icholakov/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Pentagon officials are concerned that despite significant prevention efforts, a new, anonymous survey indicates a nearly 50 percent spike in the prevalence of unwanted sexual contact at the three military service academies last year, while the number of incidents that were reported directly to authorities remained relatively unchanged.

Conducted every two years, the Pentagon's anonymous survey of the 12,000 cadets and midshipmen at the three academies found 747 reports of unwanted sexual contact during the last academic year, a 47 percent increase over the 507 reported in 2015-16 school year. The Pentagon survey defines unwanted sexual contact as ranging from unwanted touching to rape.

During the 2017-2018 academic year the academies received a total of 117 unrestricted and restricted reports of sexual assault involving cadets and midshipmen at the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy, compared with 112 last year.

Military victims of sexual assault are allowed to file their reports openly in what are known as unrestricted reports, that can lead to prosecution, or confidentially through restricted reports where the victim receives medical care but does not trigger an investigation

"Unfortunately the findings show that the rates of sexual misconduct at the academies has increased again," said Dr. Elizabeth Van Winkle, executive director of the Defense Department's Office of Force Resiliency. "We find these reports to be frustrating, disheartening and unacceptable."

"We do not believe the trends in this year’s report reflect the time, energy, and commitment dedicated to eliminating sexual misconduct from the service academies," she said.

She said that, instead, the trends appear to be a reflection of the pervasiveness of this conduct and the difficulty in sustaining a culture change over time.

The number of reports of sexual assault to authorities increased at two of the service academies, and decreased at the third.

Fifty-six reports of sexual assault were made last year at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, compared with 50 the previous year, showing an increase to 56, up from 50 the year before. Thirty-two reports of sexual assault were made at the U.S. Naval Academy, compared with 29 the previous year.

The U.S. Air Force Academy reported a decrease -- 29 reports of sexual assault in 2018, down from 33 the previous year.

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