Although movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up have raised awareness about sexual harassment and assault, we still have a long way to go. Case in point: According to The New York Times, a survey from the Department of Defense published on January 31st found that unreported instances of sexual assault at military academies increased by almost 50% during the 2017-2018 school year.
The survey is conducted biennially, examining data from the United States Military Academy at West Point, the United States Naval Academy, and the United States Air Force Academy. The cases included in the survey were designated as “unwanted sexual contact,” which ranges from groping to rape. While there were 507 cases in 2015-2016, that number rose to 747 in 2017-2018. However, reported instances of sexual assault increased by less than 5%, with 112 reported in 2015-2016 and 117 reported in 2017-2018.
The survey also found that the number of assaults at West Point and the Air Force Academy increased, while the number of instances at the Naval Academy remained about the same. Across all three military academies, about 15.8% of female students and 2.4% of male students were sexually assaulted. Additionally, roughly 50% of female students and 16% of male students experienced sexual harassment during the school year. However, although the pervasiveness of sexual harassment didn’t decrease, fewer cadets and midshipmen made sexual harassment complaints.
Don Christensen, the former top prosecutor for the Air Force and the president of Protect Our Defenders, which works to protect victims of sexual assault in the military, told USA Today that the report showed a “cultural problem at the academies.”
Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper and Chief of Staff of the Army General Mark A. Milley called the report “troubling and disappointing” in a statement.
This new report is yet another reminder of how urgently we need to address sexual assault and harassment, and how systems and institutions—not just individual people—need to make concrete change.