Military Sex Assaults Up Again, but There's a Sign of Progress

PHOTO: 5,983 reports of sexual assault in the military were filed in fiscal year 2014.Getty Images
5,983 reports of sexual assault in the military were filed in fiscal year 2014.

Pentagon statistics to be released Thursday show the number of reported sexual assaults in the military rose to nearly 6,000 in fiscal year 2014, an 8 percent increase from the previous year. But in an encouraging sign, there was a significant drop in the estimated number of unwanted sexual contacts to 19,000 from 26,000 in 2012.

The 8 percent increase reflected 5,983 reports of sexual assault filed for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30 2014, Defense officials confirmed.

The Pentagon reported in May of this year that for the previous fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2013, there were 5,061 reports of sexual abuse filed. That was an unprecedented 50 percent increase from the 3,374 in 2012.

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The military defines sexual assault as any form of intentional sexual contact that could range from sexual harassment to rape.

Pentagon officials at the time attributed the substantial increase in reporting to greater awareness among potential victims and growing confidence that the military can prosecute sexual assault cases.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will unveil the new annual statistics at a Pentagon news conference Thursday.

Also to be released will be the results of a survey conducted every two years that estimates the number of unwanted sexual contacts in the military, or sexual prevalence.

Defense officials say the Rand Corporation's report, known as the "Military Workplace Study," will show a substantial 27 percent decrease from 26,000 in 2012 to 19,000 this year.

That figure is what it was in the 2010 version of the survey.

A Defense official interpreted the increased reporting in 2014 and the significant drop in sexual prevalence numbers as “encouraging” and indicative of growing confidence that the military can prosecute sexual offenders.

A series of high-profile incidents in 2013 resulted in Congress passing legislation that changed some of the ways the military reviewed sexual assault cases. It also led the military services to review the qualification of officers assigned to handle sexual assault cases in their units.

Sexual assault in the military was a hot-button issue in Congress last year as the Senate rejected an amendment from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., that would have removed military commanders from the chain of command that decides the prosecution of cases.

That proposal was opposed by senior military leaders who said it would affect the overall chain of command.

Gillibrand could be poised to once again re-introduce her legislation to the pending Pentagon funding bill.