DOD Announces Steps to Combat Sexual Assault as New Report Details Prevalence

The 2018 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military was released this week. DOD graphic.

The Pentagon is announcing new steps to combat sexual assault, including designating sexual harassment as a standalone crime and creating a program to catch offenders, as a newly released report shows the increasing prevalence of assault in the military.

The 2018 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military states that last year there were 6,053 reports of sexual assault, though there were an estimated 20,500 total assaults committed, with only 1 in 3 reported. Young women in the service were the most likely to experience an assault, with women between the ages of 17-20 facing a 1 in 8 chance of being assaulted. Overall, service women faced a 1 in 17 chance of being assaulted. For men, 0.7 percent of service members were estimated to have experienced an assault. All are an increase over previous years.

“To put it bluntly, we are not performing to the standards and expectations we have for ourselves or for each other,” Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said in a memo released alongside the report. “This is unacceptable. We cannot shrink from facing the challenge head on. We must, and will, do better.”

To address this, the Pentagon will implement recommendations provided by the report, including creating a standalone military crime of sexual harassment. The DOD will also develop new climate assessment tools, enhance steps to select recruits “of the highest character,” prepare leaders and first-line supervisors to face the issue in their positions, execute a DOD prevention “plan of action,” and launch a program to catch serial offenders. This program includes letting service members make restricted reports to confidentially provide information about the offender and incident.

The report details how big of an issue underreporting is to the military. About one in three service members reported their assault to their military authority, with 37 percent of women reporting in 2018. This is a decrease from 43 percent in 2016.

Additionally, the report shows that alcohol is involved in 62 percent of reported assaults. Most of the perpetrators were in the E3 to E5 rank, and were either in the same grade or a slightly higher one than the victim was, the report states.

The Air Force saw an increase in its number of reported assaults, with a prevalence rate of 4.3 percent for women and 0.5 percent for men. These are up from 2.8 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively, in 2016.