Reports of sexual assaults rose more than 18 percent at the nation’s three military academies from 2021 to 2022, hitting a new high, and more than 1 in 5 female students reported being victims of unwanted sexual conduct, according to a report released Friday by the Pentagon.
"Unfortunately, this year’s report shows a significant increase in sexual assault prevalence at the military service academies," said Beth Foster, executive director of the Defense Department's Office of Force Resiliency. "Our numbers indicate that this is the highest sexual assault estimated prevalence rate for both women and men at the military service academies since the department started measuring this in 2006. These numbers are extremely disappointing and upsetting."
In 2022, 155 cadets and midshipmen reported sexual assaults occurring during military service, up from 131 in 2021.
The Naval Academy, which has more than 4,500 students, saw the largest increase from the 2021 school year to 2022, with reported assaults increasing from 33 to 61, or nearly 100 percent. Numbers at the Air Force Academy, with about 4,000 students, were unchanged at 52 per year, while numbers at West Point, which has 4,300 students, dropped from 46 to 42.
The results of a survey of students at all three academies administered this year showed that both men and women reported more incidents of unwanted sexual behavior. In all, more than 1,100 students said they had been victims.
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Alcohol was a significant contributing factor — either the victim or the alleged offender had consumed alcohol in more than half the cases. For female victims, more than 60 percent of the unwanted contacts involved alcohol, according to Foster.
In the survey, more than 21 percent of female students reported unwanted sexual conduct, up from 16.4 percent in the last survey, which was conducted in 2018.
More than 27 percent of sophomore women reported unwanted conduct, the highest for any class.
Nate Galbreath, acting director of the Defense Department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO), said the high numbers for sophomores may be linked to the change in environment from first to second years at the academies.
"As a freshman, cadets leave a very cloistered life," said Galbreath. "There’s a lot of restriction on movement and freedom. When you become a sophomore, there’s a lot more liberty ... We think that it’s that significant change from condition from freshman to sophomore that exposes people to more risk."
The authors noted that reports of unwanted sexual conduct at the academies have increased in every survey of students since 2014.
The surveys have been administered every two years since 2006, but no survey was conducted during the Covid pandemic in 2020.
This year’s survey also found that a third of female students had experienced unwanted conduct prior to entering the military academies, an increase from one quarter in the 2018 survey.
In response to the report, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced a series of steps to “reverse the harmful trends” at the military service academies. His directives are meant to prevent incidents, educate students, assess the environment at each of the academies and help survivors recover from assaults. He also said more is required to keep victims of assault and alleged perpetrators from taking classes together or being “in physical proximity.”
“As I have emphasized since taking office, I expect every member of our Total Force to be part of the solution to countering sexual assault and harassment,” said Austin. “These corrosive behaviors require your immediate attention.”