Reported sexual assaults at three of the nation’s military service academies in the last school year reached the highest level on record since the Defense Department began tracking the issue in 2006, according to a Pentagon report released Friday.
Sexual assault allegations at the Navy, Air Force and Military academies for the 2021-2022 school year jumped to 206 reports, an increase of 45 reports from the 2020-2021 academic year, which had been the highest prior to this year’s report.
An anonymous survey also found 63 percent of academy women and 20 percent of academy men experienced some form of sexual harassment in the prior academic year at the three academies, which enroll more than 12,000 students collectively.
That’s up from 50 percent of academy women and 16 percent of academy men in the 2017-2018 school year, the last time the survey was taken.
And the Defense Department’s estimate of academy men and women experiencing unwanted sexual contact in the past year increased from 737 in the 2018 school year to 1,136 in the 2022 school year.
At a Friday press briefing, Beth Foster, the executive director of the Defense Force Resiliency Office, said the increase was “extremely disappointing” and a sign that sexual assault and harassment was getting worse.
“There’s really no other way to see it,” Foster said. “Our cadets and midshipmen are future military leaders and should be able to learn and grow in an environment free of sexual assault and harassment.”
The 15th annual report highlights an ongoing and compounding issue at the three U.S. military academies, which has sparked increasing concern on Capitol Hill, resulting in legislation and programs that have so far failed to rein in the problem.
The Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Training and Education Center of Excellence works closely with the academies to ensure compliance with policies and rules.
While each of the academies have adopted comprehensive plans to tackle the issue, the Pentagon office is requiring a broader plan of action for this academic year to address new policies and to improve climate survey assessments.
While a number of factors come into play, Friday’s report identified alcohol as a driver behind the troubling trend.
It found that 60 percent of all unwanted sexual contact incidents were driven by alcohol use and labeled drinking as “a potential area of concern across the Academies.”
Sexual harassment incidents at all three academies were up by several percentage points compared to the 2017-2018 school year.
The U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., reported the most incidents, according to the Pentagon. The academy is located near downtown Annapolis and a number of bars.
At the Naval Academy, 23.1 percent of women reported unwanted sexual contact, while 4.6 percent of men reported the same.
The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., reported a similar rate. About 22 percent of women reported unwanted sexual contact, as did 4.3 percent of men.
The New York-based Military Academy, known as West Point, reported the lowest rate with 16.5 percent of academy women reporting unwanted sexual contact, and 3.5 percent of men.
Roughly 21 percent of all academy women experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact last year. For academy men, the number who experienced unwanted sexual contact was about 4 percent.
In the last school year, only 155 students reported an incident of unwanted sexual contact to the Pentagon.