Officials say the increase in reports of sexual assault suggests confidence in the system is growing and that victims are more willing to come forward.
The number of reported sexual assault cases in the U.S. military went up by about 50 percent in 2013, compared with statistics from 2012, according to data acquired by the Associated Press and published in a report on Friday.
It has been no secret that the U.S. armed forces have been struggling to reign in a sexual assault problem that seems to have no bounds for rank or branch. There have been several unpleasant and embarrassing episodes this year.
After Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, the chief of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Responseprogram, was arrested in Arlington, Va., in May when he “approached a female victim in a parking lot and grabbed her breasts and buttocks,” the problem looked dire. That came after Congress already had convened a hearing on sexual assault in the military following the news in January that roughly a dozen drill instructors and training staff at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio had sexually assaulted nearly 60 men and women since 2009.
According to Defense Department officials, the increase in reports this year suggests confidence in the system is growing and that victims are more willing to come forward.
Officials were cautious in their conclusions based on the preliminary data, but told the AP that surveys, focus groups and repeated meetings with service members throughout the year suggest that the number of actual incidents — from unwanted sexual contact and harassment to violent assaults — has remained largely steady.
However, officials announced the results of an anonymous study earlier this year that disclosed that about 26,000 service members detailed some type of unwanted sexual contact or sexual assault. That differed from 2012 , when 19,000 service members said they had experienced some kind of sexual misconduct.
President Barack Obama ordered military leaders to review the problem just last week.
The culture of fear that gripped service members from reporting sexual assaults in previous decades has been fostered by the military’s reputation for rigor and courage.
The Air Force reportedly had a 45 percent increase in reports; the Navy had an increase of 46 percent; the Army had a 50 percent increase; the Marines had an 86 percent increase.
Part of a new law signed by Obama last week, aims to help curb sexual misconduct in the American military by stripping commanders of their power to overturn sentences that result from a court martial. It also abolishes the five-year statute of limitations on reporting rape and sexual assault, and establishes minimum sentencing guidelines for military personnel found guilty of sex crimes.
“If I do not see the kind of progress I expect, then we will consider additional reforms,” Obama said on Thursday.