Sexual assault reports at military academies rise again to worst since 2006

The U.S. Naval Academy had the largest increase in the 2021-2022 school year.

March 10, 2023, 5:25 PM

The Pentagon on Friday released its latest numbers on reports of sexual assault at its three military academies and the news is not good.

This year's survey found the highest numbers since the Defense Department began tracking reports in 2006 and a prevalence survey indicated one out of very five female cadets and midshipmen experienced unwanted sexual contact over the previous year.

For the school year 2021 to 2022, there were 155 reports among cadets and midshipmen, an increase from 131 the previous year with the U.S. Naval Academy experiencing the largest increase in reports.

Also released were the results of the anonymous prevalence survey sent to all cadets and midshipmen normally carried out every two years, although the previously scheduled one could not be carried out because of COVID.

In this Jan. 9, 2014, file photo, an entrance to the U.S. Naval Academy campus is shown in Annapolis, Md.
Patrick Semansky/AP, FILE

With a high response rate, the survey is believed to be a more accurate picture than the actual reports that are filed and it estimated that incidents of unwanted sexual contact increased to 1,136 up from 737 in the 2018 survey.

That comes out to 21.4% of female cadets/midshipmen and 4.4% of males experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact in the prior year.

Those numbers represent significant increases over the previous survey that found 16.1% of female students and 2.6% of male students had experienced unwanted sexual contact.

The definition for unwanted sexual contact ranges from sexual harassment to rape.

"These numbers are extremely disappointing and upsetting," Beth Foster, the head of the Defense Force Resiliency Office, told reporters in an audio briefing. "I mean, there's really no other way to see it. Our cadets and midshipmen, our future military leaders, should be able to learn and grow in an environment free of sexual assault and harassment."

She added, "And while these numbers are troubling, it is important to acknowledge that we've had a number of prior indicators that tell us that this problem may be getting worse."

In this 2021, file photo, a midshipman holds their hat during the United States Naval Academy graduation and commissioning ceremony at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md.
Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE

The association of alcohol with sexual assaults at the academies continues.

The report found that alcohol was involved in 61% of the unwanted sexual contacts for women and 58% among male victims. That includes alcohol involvement on the part of either the victim and/or the offender.

"We do know that alcohol is involved in more than half of these situations," said Dr. Ashlea Klahr, Director, Health And Resilience Research, Office Of People Analytics. "When we look across the board we also see really different factors patterns depending on whether or not alcohol was involved."

Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for sexual assault victims, released the following statement in response to Friday's numbers.

"This report confirms what many of us have feared -- that the scourge of sexual assault in our military is only getting worse," its statement said. "This report is particularly troubling because it exposes a dramatic increase in the prevalence of this abhorrent behavior at the institutions that are responsible for shaping the military's future leaders. It's clear that more of the same outdated training and attitudes are only making this problem worse. Leadership at the academies must be held accountable."