Military Academy Sexual Assault: 50 Percent Rise in Reports
Reports of sexual assaults at three military academies in the United States spiked by 50 percent over the last academic year, according to analysis by the Associated Press — yet a senior defense official is trying to spin the numbers into a positive light, saying the sharp increase in reports comes from students' growing confidence in the reporting system and not the fact that harassment is on the rise.
The Associated Press reviewed documents that show there were 91 reported sexual assaults at the three academies — the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado — during the 2014-2015 school year, compared to just 59 during the 2013-2014 school year. And while the number of reports rose at every academy, the spike was highest at the Air Force Academy, where the number nearly doubled from 25 to 49.
Reports of sexual assaults weren't the only thing that grew at the academies last year, the AP found. The number of reported instances of sexual harassment also spiked by 40 percent, according to the news outlet, which says 28 reports were filed last year. Of those, 13 reports of sexual harassment were filed at the Naval Academy, with seven filed at West Point and eight at the Air Force Academy.
Asked yesterday, officials acknowledged it's difficult to know just how much the increase stems from spiked crime or better reporting, thanks in part to the military's focus on expanding awareness programs in recent years that aim to make victims more aware of their options and comfortable seeking help. An anonymous survey of military academy students from the 2013-2014 year showed that fewer students said they had experienced unwanted sexual advances — defined as everything from inappropriate touching to rape — than in previous years.
While we hope the increase is in fact due to a higher comfort level and familiarity with the military's reporting system, these aren't numbers that should be brushed under the rug with a pat on the back. Reported or not, a single sexual assault at a military academy is too many.
Officials also told the Associated Press that — thanks to focus groups conducted in recent years — they know attitudes about sexual harassment are changing, shifting toward many students taking a more active role in preventing or objecting to any attack. It's a start, but the military clearly has a long way to go.
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