Over the past two years, there has been about a 60% spike in sexual assaults reported in the military, according to numbers coming from the Pentagon that have been reported to the Associated Press (AP). Officials report that there were almost 6,000 victims of reported assaults in 2014, compared with just over 5,500 last year. The Pentagon changed its reporting method, and now each victim counts as one report.
These reports are preliminary and have yet to be publicly released, so the actual numbers could shift slightly as the reports are finalized. But, under the new reporting methods, there were 3,604 victims in 2012, 5,518 in 2013, and 5,983 in 2014.
The new reporting method counts every victim as one report, rather than having one report of a sexual assault contain multiple victims.
However, we should pause for a moment and consider the fact that this has always been a problem. New research and surveys suggest that victims are more willing to come forward and actually report such assaults than they were previously. The trend could be due to increased awareness of the issue, victims feeling more empowered, and a combination of other factors.
Based on the recently reported numbers, and an anonymous survey conducted by the Rand Corporation, officials said that about 1 in every 4 victims filed a sexual assault report this year. In contrast, only 1 in every 10 victims filed a report in 2012.
Certainly, the under-reporting of sexual assault is a problem inside the military and in society at-large. However, the military presents unique circumstances, where lower ranking troops are unwilling to report out of fear of retaliation from their superiors. In addition, females in the military can attest to the “good ole’ boys club” mentality that exists. And in fact, one new survey reported that 60% of women who said they reported sexual assault did experience retaliation or social backlash from their peers. There may very well be an additional feeling of helplessness due to systemic problems.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have complained that the Pentagon has not done enough to make it easier and more acceptable for victims to report harassment and assaults. Meanwhile victims have complained that they are indeed not comfortable going to their superiors to report sexual assault. Reporting such an incident is (unjustly) stigmatized as a weakness and infidelity to your fellow troops in a culture that breeds strength and loyalty.
While the reported numbers of sexual assault are going up, the gap between the real numbers and reported numbers is shrinking. That trend represents a positive step for the service branches, but we must recognize it is just one step in a process to minimize sexual assault as much as possible.
Brigadier General Carol Ann Fausone (ret.)
General Fausone began her military career in the U.S. Air Force, and ended her service as the first female Brigadier General in the Michigan National Guard’s history. Today, she continues to help veterans and their families nationwide with her small business, The Veteran Advocate, LLC.