Reports of sexual assaults in the military declined last year, reversing a trend of significant increases over the past several years, according to draft documents reviewed by The Associated Press.
The number of sexual assaults reported by military members in 2007 was 2,688, compared with 2,947 in 2006, a decline of about 9 percent. Officials note, however, that some changes in the data-reporting make it difficult to compare numbers year to year. In 2005, there were about 2,400 sexual assaults reported.
The 2007 decline comes after sex assault reports jumped by about 24 percent in 2006 and nearly 40 percent in 2005 — increases military officials attributed in part to more aggressive efforts to encourage victims to come forward.
Information about the report was provided by officials on condition of anonymity because it was not scheduled to be made public until Friday afternoon.
Fourth year of detailed statistics
This is the fourth year the military has compiled detailed statistics on sexual assaults. The reporting methods have changed each year, complicating efforts to evaluate progress, or to determine whether it is the actual assaults or the reporting that is going up or down.
The cases involved members of the military who were either victims or accused of the assaults. The military counts rape, nonconsensual sodomy, indecent assault and attempts to commit any of those as sexual assault.
According to the documents, 1,516 reports involved the Army; 565, the Air Force; 394, the Navy; and 213, the Marines. The active duty Army, which is by far the largest service with about 518,000 soldiers, also saw the highest rate of reported sexual assaults.
The Army had 2.6 reports per 1,000 soldiers; the Air Force, 1.6 reports per 1,000; the Marines, 1.1 per 1,000; and the Navy, 1 per 1,000 sailors. The average was 1.8 sexual assaults reported per 1,000 military members.
Some reports don't go to law enforcement
Also, this is only the second full year in which the military has included in the totals sexual assaults that are filed under a program that allows victims to report the incident and receive health care or counseling services but does not notify law enforcement or commanders.
Of the 2,688 reports filed last year, 705 were initially made under that restricted program. But victims are allowed to change their minds and pursue an investigation later, and that was done in 102 of those cases, thus 603 remain restricted.
Under congressional pressure, Pentagon officials have moved in recent years to improve the way the services handle sexual assaults, which historically were largely underreported. Efforts have also been made to increase training and awareness of the issue, so that military members were more comfortable coming forward to report the assaults.
Some of the changes came after problems with sexual abuse at the service academies came to light, as well as ongoing problems in units stationed overseas.