Pentagon's most recent report to Congress, published Monday, indicate an estimated 14,900 service members surveyed last year experienced a sex assault, down from 20,300 when the last comprehensive canvass was conducted in 2014. The military services received reports of sexual assault involving 6,172 servicewomen and men in 2016 either as victims or subjects of criminal investigation, a number that's remained consistent for the last three years. The preponderance — 5,350 — were submitted by victims and, of those, about 10 percent made a report for incidents occurring before they entered the military.
Yet while a greater percentage of victims are reporting crimes, nearly 6 in 10 say they've experienced some sort of negative reaction as a consequence for coming forward, officials acknowledge. It underscores the challenges military leaders continue to face even as their prevention and support efforts show demonstrable signs of progress.
A decade ago, officials deduced that about 7 percent of military women and 2 percent of men experienced some sort of "unwanted sexual contact" — more than 34,000 total. Today, the Pentagon believes sex assault occurs to 4.3 percent of women and 0.6 percent of men, according to its latest report, yet those rates have sunken and swelled depending on the year. The current trajectory is downward.
And while the number of formal reports has mostly leveled off since 2014, officials say their survey data indicates a greater percentage of victims feel comfortable coming forward. About 1 in 3 service members who experienced a sexual assault ultimately filed a report in 2016, the Pentagon says. That's up from 1 in 14 a decade ago.
The report's release comes as senior leaders contend with fallout from a military-wide scandal in which male service members distributed nude photos of female colleagues as part of a perverse social media network whose members, in some cases, promoted sexual violence. The episode has proven deeply embarrassing for the Defense Department, a proud institution that, like many college campuses around the country, have struggled to curtail problems with sexual assault, harassment and retaliation.
Other significant findings from the report:
- The percentage of incidents where alcohol was involved continues to rise — nearly doubling over the last 10 years, according to women who were surveyed. In 2006, 32 percent of women indicated their assault involved alcohol and/or drug use by them or the alleged offender. In 2016, 60 percent of women reported this was the case.
- For the first time, the survey included responses from service members who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender. That demographic comprised 5 percent of all respondents. Their estimated prevalence rate for sexual assault is 4.5 percent, compared to 0.8 percent for those who do not identify as LGBT.
- Military commanders used the court-martial process to take action in 1,331 cases. Of the 791 cases that were taken to court-martial on sexual assault charges, 261 resulted in convictions.
- Special victims counsel and victim advocates were the most-used support services, with the highest satisfaction ratings, but men weren't as satisfied overall as women with the support they received.
- Of those who experienced ostracism or maltreatment after reporting an incident, 29 percent indicated the treatment they perceived involved some form of social media.