Sexual assault has increased more than 30 percent over the past year, according to a Department of Defense (DOD) report.
Midshipmen and cadets at the Air Force Academy, Naval Academy and West Point had the most significant jumps — with a total of 122 reported incidents in 2019. In 2018 and 2017, the number of reported incidents of sexual assault totaled 92.
Following the DOD report, CNN reported 10 Democratic presidential candidates have signed on to a pledge by Protect Our Defenders, an organization devoted to ending rape and sexual assault in the military.
The pledge would strip the power to investigate sexual assault from senior offices and allow soldiers to report such crimes to a trained, independent military prosecutor. The DOD report noted that “sexual assault prevalence at the academies is comparable to rates observed in civilian colleges. However, the DoD holds itself, and the academies, to a higher standard of behavior.”
According to the Military Times, the report also found that the number of cadets and midshipmen experiencing sexual harassment “remains high at the academies.”
In addition to those 122 reports, another 19 involved students who had reported an assault that occurred before they began their assignments, and another eight from non-student service members and civilians assigned to the academies.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg are among the Democratic presidential candidates to sign the pledge, according to CNN. They are the only two veterans in the race.
“Pete believes that if our service members can sum up the courage to put their lives on the line to defend our country, our elected officials should have the courage to break from the past to ensure safe and healthy environments for our men and women in uniform,” Rachel Thomas, Buttigieg deputy communications director, told CNN.
Statistics covering 2018 revealed that the prevalence of sexual assault had been rising since 2014. Prevalence increased from 8.2 percent in 2014 to 12.2 percent in 2016 to 15.8 percent in 2018 among women, according to the Military Times. In men, the number rose from 1.1 percent to 1.7 percent to 2.4 percent.
According to 2018 data, about 12 percent of assaults at the academies are reported, compared to about 30 percent in the active force. That is up from 6 percent reporting at academies in 2008.
“The Department recognizes the challenge of combating sexual assault in the military service academies and the high cost of not succeeding,” said Elizabeth Van Winkle, executive director of the Office of Force Resiliency, said in the statement.
The Military Times reported that an unnamed West Point senior told a focus group that everyone has heard of or has been a part of a conversation where “there’s something that … other people would find sexually charged and offensive if they were to have heard it.”
“And I think that would be … proof that sometimes we don’t necessarily place [responsibility upon] ourselves as much,” the senior said.