WASHINGTON — The number of reported sexual assaults across the military inched up by about 1% last year, as a sharp decline in Army numbers offset large increases in the other three services, U.S. officials told The Associated Press.
The small overall uptick is significantly less than the 13% jump the Defense Department saw in 2021, but it's overshadowed by the fact the Air Force, the Navy and the Marine Corps all had more reports last year than the previous year, according to the two U.S. officials.
Because the Army is much larger than the other three services, its 9% drop in reported sexual assaults last year drove the overall military increase down. That large decrease comes a year after Army leaders saw a nearly 26% jump in reports involving soldiers — the largest increase for that service since 2013.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Pentagon's report on the cases had not yet been publicly released, said the Air Force saw the largest increase in reported assaults during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, at 13%, while the Navy had a 9% jump and the Marine Corps went up by about 4%. The Pentagon report is expected to be released Thursday.
Overall, there were more than 8,942 reports of sexual assaults involving service members during the 2022 fiscal year, a slight increase over the 8,866 the year before.
The Pentagon and the military services have come under increasing criticism and pressure from members of Congress to reduce sexual assaults and harassment in the military. The services have long struggled to come up with programs to prevent sexual assaults and to encourage reporting, including a number of new initiatives over the past year.
Defense officials have long argued that an increase in reported assaults is a positive trend because so many people are reluctant to report them, both in the military and in society as a whole. Greater reporting, they say, shows there is more confidence in the reporting system, greater comfort with the support for victims, and a growing number of offenders who are being held accountable.
It’s unclear whether the latest increase in reports represents a growing problem or whether those who say they were assaulted were just more willing to come forward.
While the military has made inroads in making it easier and safer for service members to come forward, it has had far less success in sustaining reductions in assaults, which according to a confidential survey returned to a high level last year. And Army leaders, as an example, have acknowledged that issues such as sexual assaults, suicides and other problems have an impact on recruiting. All of the services have been struggling to meet recruiting goals.
Army officials were alarmed as they saw the growing numbers last year and began trying to implement new programs, and by late fall they said that some changes were starting to work.
They said one change involved a training program that soldiers get when they report to their first duty station. It is rolled out right away, and it has soldiers acting out dangerous situations and emphasizes training on how to respond.
The Army officials also said they were beefing up evaluation programs that grade unit leaders, including randomly picking peers and others to do the assessments.
According to officials, the number of Air Force sexual assault reports increased from 1,701 in 2021 to 1,928 last year, while the Navy went from 1,883 to 2,052, the Marine Corps went from 1,201 to 1,244 and the Army decreased from 4,081 to 3,718.
The Pentagon releases a report every year on the number of sexual assaults reported by or about troops. But because sexual assault is a highly underreported crime, the department also does a confidential survey every two years to get a clearer picture of the problem. The most recent survey was released last year, so it won't come out again until next year.