Reports of US military sexual assaults has increased by 13% in the last year according to official figures, but an anonymous survey released on Thursday indicates that this jump could be as high as 37%.
The anonymous survey found that more than 20,000 service members said that they had experienced some type of sexual assault, but only a third of those filed a formal report. This number is 37% higher than two years ago when the study was last performed, which makes it hard to attribute the increase to a particular year.
The survey found that young and junior enlisted women between ages 17 and 20 were most likely to experience sexual assault. In the vast majority of the cases the alleged perpetrator was a military man, often near the same rank as the victim and usually someone she knew. The report also found that nearly two-thirds of all incidents involved alcohol use by the victim and/or the offender.
It also found that 21% of the women who said they reported a sexual assault also said that they suffered some type of retaliation aimed at stopping them from making a complaint.
On Thursday, the acting Defence Secretary, Patrick Shanahan, called this year’s increase unacceptable and directed the military to enact new programs to identify serial offenders and increase scrutiny of new recruits to ensure they have the right character for military service.
“Sexual assault and sexual harassment are persistent challenges,” Shanahan said in a memo to military service leaders. “We cannot shrink from facing the challenge head on. We must, and will, do better.”
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, shouted during a Senate armed services committee confirmation hearing Thursday for the army general James McConville, “You don’t have it [under control!]. You’re failing us.”
McConville has been nominated to be the next chief of staff of the army, and that service saw a surge of more than 18% in the number of sexual assault reports filed last year. The US Marine Corps had the largest jump, at 23%, while the Navy saw a 7% increase and the Air Force figure was up by about 4%.