Sexual Assault Reports Decline at U.S. Military Academies

Sexual assaults reported at U.S. military service academies declined to 53 in the last academic year, from 58 the previous year, according to a Pentagon study.

The reports were made by cadets and midshipmen in the 2012-2013 academic year for events they experienced while in military service, according to the report issued today.

The Pentagon said in the report that it wasn’t clear whether the overall decrease “was due to fewer assaults occurring, or due to fewer victims opting to report.”

Reporting of sexual assaults declined at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, by five reports and at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado by seven reports, the report said. There was an increase of two reports at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

“We know it’s an underreported crime,” Major General Jeffrey Snow, who took over as director of the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office this week, said at a Pentagon briefing. “Cadets and midshipmen also identified peer pressure as a barrier” to reporting assaults, he said. “That’s not good.”

While most cases concerned men accused of assaulting women, there were two cases of men assaulting other men, said Nathan Galbreath, senior executive adviser for the Pentagon office.

In addition to the 53 reports, 11 cases concerned events that occurred before the students entered service, and five cases were reported by civilians against cadets and midshipmen, according to the report.

‘Hostile Climate’

Anu Bhagwati, executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network, a women’s support group, said the report documents “a pervasive hostile climate at our nation’s military academies.” The numbers cited in the report “suggest that cadets and midshipmen lack faith and confidence in the reporting system,” she said in a statement.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has instructed the superintendents of the military academies to increase efforts to prevent sexual assaults, including reviewing policies on the use of alcohol, Snow said.

“No one should believe they must tolerate this behavior as part of their education,” Snow said.