A sea of West Point cadets watch the 119th Army-Navy Game in Philadelphia, Pa., Dec. 8, 2018.

Photo by Dana M Clarke

Sex assault reports up at military schools; more unreported

January 31, 2019 - 1:58 pm

The total number of sexual assaults at the three U.S. military academies increased slightly last year according to a Pentagon report, but an anonymous survey suggests far more encounters are going unreported.

The survey says the number of students at the Army, Navy and Air Force academies who say they experienced unwanted sexual contact increased by nearly 50 percent over the 2016 survey and more than half of the encounters involved alcohol.

There were a total of 117 reports of sexual assault received across all three academies.

The survey is conducted every two years. For the first time in 2018 it asked about alcohol use, and it found nearly a third of male students and 15 percent of females said they drink heavily.

Defense officials said Thursday they are frustrated and disheartened by the results and are hoping new programs and policies being developed by the services will help stem the problem.

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"A disciplined force thrives in an environment of mutual respect," says Hon. James Stewart, performing the duties of undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. "Our cadets and midshipmen must be role models if they're to lead the world's finest fighting force. This year's report demonstrates that there is more work to be done to meet this goal.  We are resolved to identify solutions that not only benefit our Academies, but also our nation's civilian institutions of higher learning."  
 
In the summer of 2018, the academies implemented plans focusing on prevention, improved reporting, enabling a culture of respect, and promote a more disciplined force.  These plans were not reflected in this year's survey.

"Our commitment is absolute," said Dr. Elizabeth Van Winkle, executive director of the office of force resiliency for the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. "While we are disheartened that the strategies we have employed have not achieved the results we had intended, we are not deterred."