Reports of sexual assault at the three U.S. service academies jumped 55 percent in academic year 2014-2015 while sexual harassment complaints also rose, according to a new Defense Department report.

The Pentagon review of sexual harassment and assault reports at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York; the Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland; and the Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, found that 91 reports were filed during the school year ending May 2015, with more than half of those — 54 — filed as unrestricted, meaning they can be fully investigated by the military commands and law enforcement.

Eight of the reports were filed for incidents that occurred before the victim entered military service.

The Air Force Academy, which consistently has had the highest number of reports since 2011, saw the largest increase from the previous year, with 49 reports, including 27 unrestricted and 22 restricted, almost double he 25 reports in school year 2013-2014.

West Point cadets in 2014-2015 filed 17 reports, including 15 unrestricted and two restricted, and Naval Academy midshipmen filed 25 reports, nearly equally split between unrestricted and restricted.

Pentagon officials say the increase actually has a positive aspect in that it represents a "growing trust in the system" to handle complaints appropriately, and reflects a concerted effort by the military schools to reduce harassment, promote prevention and improve response.

The report noted that the Air Force Academy's numbers for the most recent year are more in line with reports in previous years and the lower number for school year 2013-2014 may have been an anomaly.

"We've seen a lot of the progress we expected to see when [then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel] last year ordered the superintendents to take sexual assault prevention and response programs under their direct supervision," said Nathan W. Galbreath, senior executive adviser for the Defense Department Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, or SAPRO, on Jan. 7.

The Pentagon review of sexual harassment and assault reports at military academies found that 91 reports were filed during the school year ending May 2015

Photo Credit: K. Chamberlain

Reports of sexual harassment also have increased, with the academies receiving 28 complaints in academic year 2014-2015, up from 20 the previous year. Those included 11 formal complaints and 17 informal complaints.

Officials said the academies need to improve emphasis on sexual harassment training, adding that their efforts fall short of their sexual assault prevention and response programs.

"While sexual harassment is quite different from sexual assault, research suggests that efforts taken to prevent sexual harassment may have the added benefit of preventing sexual assault," officials wrote.

Women continue to make up the majority of those filing reports of sexual assault at the academies, but 12 percent of the assault reports at West Point were filed by men, along with 16 percent of the reports at the Naval Academy and 10 percent at the Air Force Academy.

Authors of the "Annual Report of Sexual Harassment and Violence at the U.S. Service Academies" made several recommendations for improvement, to include enhancing character development through academic, athletic and training programs, as well as improving metrics for measuring program progress.

They added that the academies have exceeded White House recommendations for reducing on-campus sexual assault.

"The service academies have the opportunity to set national standards for collegiate programs to address sexual harassment and sexual assault," the report said.

Patricia Kime is a senior writer covering military and veterans health care, medicine and personnel issues.

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