The number of sexual assaults reported in the military continues to rise across the services, with the highest increase among the services reported by the Marine Corps.
In its annual report on sexual assault in the military released Monday, the Pentagon said there were 6,769 cases reported in fiscal year 2017, up 10 percent from 6,172 reported in fiscal year 2016.
Of those 6,172, there were 998 Marine Corps cases, up 14.9 percent from the year before; 2,706 Army cases, up 8.4 percent; 1,585 Navy cases, up 9.3 percent; and 1,480 Air Force cases, up 9.2 percent.
The higher number, Pentagon officials said, reflects a greater awareness of administrative and legal options available to victims or greater confidence by victims that their cases will be handled professionally and without retribution, which has led to more victims coming forward.
“We will not rest until we eliminate this crime from our ranks,” said Navy Rear Adm. Ann Burkhardt, director of the Defense Department’s sexual assault prevention and response office. “We view this willingness report as the result of a decade-long effort to improve victim support, criminal investigation and military justice.”
Some service members also, in a separate focus group, reported “training fatigue” in the amount of sexual assault awareness training they are required to take, the study said.
The increase occurred in a year that included two major online photo sharing scandals and high-visibility affronts, such as pilots drawing sky penises, that changes in culture have not taken hold, and incidents are on the rise despite greater awareness.
The Pentagon will need additional data to determine whether the rising number of reported assaults reflects an increase in actual sexual assaults occurring, or just an increase in victims’ willingness to come forward and report them, said Nate Galbreath, deputy director of the sexual assault prevention and response office.
“We won’t know about an increase in crime until we see our prevalence numbers for next year,” Galbreath said, referring to a survey conducted every other year that gives DoD a clearer picture on how many assaults are actually being committed, versus how many are getting reported. The next survey will cover fiscal year 2018, which ends Sept. 30.
Tara Copp is the Pentagon Bureau Chief for Military Times and author of the award-winning military nonfiction "The Warbird: Three Heroes. Two Wars. One Story."