All military branches saw upsurge of sexual assault last year

Matt Saintsing
May 01, 2018 - 1:37 pm

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Andrew D. Sarver/Released


Reports of sexual assault across all branches of the U.S. military surged 10 percent last year, according to the Defense Department’s annual study, released Monday.

Last year, 5,277 service members reported being sexual assaulted while in the ranks, compared to 4,794 in 2016. Despite the rise, the Pentagon says that surveys they’ve conducted demonstrate the number of victims is actually going down, not up.

A 2016 survey found that the number of total US service members who said they were victims of sexual assault dropped by over 5,000—a 10 year low.

"Over the last decade the department has made progress, fewer service members experience sexual assault, more service members than ever are making the courageous decision to report their experiences and to receive restorative require," said Dr. Elizabeth Van Winkle, the Pentagon's director of force resiliency.

"While the progress we've seen provides some comfort, we neither take it for granted nor are we under any illusions that our work is done,” she added.

Here’s the breakdown from each of the services:

  • The Army experienced the highest number of reported sexual assaults in 2017 with 2,706, an 8 percent increase compared to the year before.


  • With 1,585 reports, the Navy saw a 9 percent increase.


  • Also increasing 9 percent over last year, the Air Force captured 1,480 reports.


  • The Marine Corps saw the largest increase in reported sexual assaults among the branches with a staggering 14.7 percent increase—a rate so alarming that the service was flagged by Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO).

The Defense Department has long argued that an increase in reporting incidents is actually a good thing, as it indicates that victims and survivors are more comfortable coming forward to bring their attackers to justice.

Of the 3,567 sexual assault investigations, military authorities found that 62 percent of those cases had sufficient evidence to take disciplinary action. Of those 2,218 cases, 53 percent received punitive action on a sexual assault charge, the report says.

But, some experts are saying that the statistics aren’t telling the complete story, and that the military is fundamentally unable to hold individual offenders accountable.

Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) found that despite the 10 percent bump in reported incidents between 2016 and 2017, conviction rates dropped from 4.2 percent to 4 percent over that time period. And that conviction rates from 2015 to last year decreased from 413 to 281.

"An increase in reporting is only good if it leads to justice. It hasn't," SWAN CEO Lydia Watts said in a statement.

"Despite the increase in reporting, actual convictions from sexual assault reports have decreased over the last three years. The military is encouraging victims to come forward, and when they do, it hangs them out to dry."