January 13, 2014 — Reported sexual assaults at U.S. military academies declined from 58 in the 2011-2012 school year to 53 in the 2012-2013 school year, according to a report released on Friday by the Department of Defense, USA Today reports.
In releasing the report, military officials cautioned that they could not be certain whether the decrease in sexual assaults "was due to fewer assaults occurring, or due to fewer victims willing to report."
The report follows the efforts by top military officials and the Obama administration to address sexual assault in the military after a Pentagon report showed that instances of unwanted sexual contact in the armed forces totaled 26,000 in 2012, a 33% increase compared with 2010 (Brook, USA Today, 1/9). As part of those efforts, Obama earlier this month signed into law a defense authorization bill that includes several changes to how the military addresses sexual assault (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/2).
In total, there were 70 sexual assault complaints at the academies in 2012-2013, including 11 in which the assault occurred before the accuser arrived at a military academy, five in which a citizen alleged being assaulted by a cadet or midshipman, and one accuser who was involved in two separate reports.
Fifteen investigations were completed for cases reported during the 2012-2013 school year, one of which was referred to a court-martial for sexual assault, while another was referred there for administrative discipline. Nine investigations remain open.
Alcohol played a role in 59% of reported instances of unwanted sexual contact, according to the report. In addition, it found that there were 38 female accusers and four male accusers among the investigations completed during the 2012-2013 school year, while the alleged perpetrators included 33 men and one woman (USA Today, 1/9).
The report said sexual assaults at military academies were fueled in part by a culture of disrespect and sexism among athletes at the institutions. The Army and Navy have increased training for the captains of athletic teams on how to recognize and report unacceptable behavior in an effort to address the issue (Baldor, AP/Sacramento Bee, 1/10).
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, argued that the current report is "totally inconclusive" because it does not estimate the overall number of cadets and midshipmen who experienced unwanted sexual conduct. She is promoting a measure that would require the estimate be made annually, rather than every other year.
Speier also criticized the lack of convictions, saying, "Until people have confidence that when they file a complaint that the assailant is going to be prosecuted, victims are not going to come forward."
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who advocated for many reforms included in the defense authorization bill, said that the reforms extend to the academies as well as the service branches. "[W]e're going to continue to hold our academies to the same standards as the branches, requiring protection and empowerment of victims and aggressive, professional prosecution of perpetrators," she said (USA Today, 1/9).