The Defense Department will update its sexual assault prevention training to emphasize the link between sexual harassment and sexual assault.
The new initiative, along with three others, comes as a new report found that instances of sexual assault are down while the number of service members actually reporting the crime increased during fiscal 2014.
The annual report on sexual assault in the military found that 22 percent of active-duty women and 7 percent of active-duty men faced some sort of sexual harassment in the past year, which can act as a gateway to sexual assault.
“That’s abhorrent and has to stop, not just because it’s flat-out wrong, but also because the data show that those who experience sexual harassment are more likely to be sexually assaulted, so we have to better attack permissive behaviors like sexual harassment,” Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Friday in announcing the initiative.
Mr. Carter also directed the department to incorporate gender differences where it makes sense to do so in its services for victims of sexual assault to be able to cater specifically to men and women.
“Compared to women, men are less likely to report and more likely to experience multiple incidents by multiple offenders, and they’re more likely to view the incident as hazing or as an attempt to humiliate,” Mr. Carter said.
While women are five times more likely than men in the military to be sexually assaulted, more male troops were sexually assaulted in fiscal 2014 than female service members because the military is predominantly men, the report found. An estimated 9,600 women and 10,600 men were sexually assaulted in fiscal 2014.
The report found that there were a total of 6,131 reports of sexual assault in fiscal 2014, up 11 percent from the previous fiscal year. More than 5,000 of those came from service member victims, with the others coming from assaults that occurred before joining the military and nonservice member victims who were assaulted by a member of the military.
Nathan Galbreath, senior executive adviser in the Sexual Assault Prevention Office, said that the higher numbers more reflect the Defense Department’s encouraging victims to come forward without fear of retaliation than an actual increase in sexual assaults.
In fact, estimates that come from surveys suggest the total number of sexual assaults is decreasing. There were about 20,000 estimated instances of sexual assault in fiscal 2014, down from about 26,000 in fiscal 2012.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who has been a champion of sexual assault reform on Capitol Hill, said that the report’s numbers are “encouraging” and suggested an increased confidence in commanders.
“One assault is still too many, and there’s still more work to be done — especially when it comes to guarding against retaliation — but today’s report shows we’re on the right track,” she said in a statement.
Retaliation is one area where the report didn’t show any improvement in victims feeling that they suffer for reporting their assaults. Nearly two-thirds of active-duty women who report an assault perceive some type of retaliation.
As a result, Mr. Carter called for the creation of a Defense Departmentwide strategy to prevent retaliation against service members who report any crimes, not just sexual assault.
Individual services largely saw the same trend in reporting being up, with the prevalence of assaults decreasing. One exception is among Army men, who actually saw an increase in the percentage of male soldiers who said they experienced unwanted sexual contact from 0.8 percent to 1.2 percent.
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