As many as 8.4% of women and 1.5% of men on active duty encountered unwanted sexual contact last year
Sexual assault in the US military has hit record levels, with more service members reporting an offense in the last year than in any other since the Pentagon began tracking reports 15 years ago, according to a Defense Department survey published on Thursday.
About one in 12 women on active duty (8.4%) reported having been assaulted or subjected to an assault attempt in the last year, while 1.5% of men reported the same, the Pentagon’s Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military for 2021 shows. The estimated number of victims system-wide is 35,875 – a sharp increase over the 20,500 victims among active-duty personnel found in 2018, the last time the survey was conducted.
Nearly one in every three active-duty women (29%) had reported sexual harassment on the job, with a quarter of these claiming to have been assaulted themselves. At the same time, the report rate has declined so that only one in five assaults are now reported – down from one in three in 2018. Accordingly, trust in the ability of military leaders to protect the privacy and safety of victims and treat them with dignity has cratered 20 or more points among both male and female service members.
“These numbers are tragic and extremely disappointing,” Elizabeth Foster, the Pentagon’s executive director of the Office of Force Resiliency, told reporters on Thursday. “These events not only have an impact at an individual level, but they also degrade our readiness and ability for the department to conduct our mission.”
Following last year’s Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military, the Pentagon has already begun implementing new procedures to deal with the crisis, including establishing special victims’ units to handle sex crimes. The department is expected to hire over 2,000 people to staff the new units, which will take responsibility for prosecuting sexual assaults out of the military chain of command.
House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel chair and California congresswoman Jackie Speier promised a hearing in the weeks to come, vowing to bring “the watchful eye of Congress” to bear in order to “address this national embarrassment and crisis.” She suggested a direct causal link between the Defense Department’s failure to address the sexual misconduct epidemic and its inability to meet recruitment goals.
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