Sexual assaults in the military declining, Pentagon survey finds

WASHINGTON — The number of sexual assaults on both men and women in the military declined in 2016, even though the frequency with which service members report an attack has remained about the same, according to a new Pentagon report.

Statistics released Monday show that 6,172 sexual assaults were reported in fiscal 2016, up from 6,083 in 2015 and 6,131 in 2014, the report said.

The figures include everything from groping to rape, and is believed to represent progress because a Pentagon survey found that the frequency with which a sexual assault victim reports an attack has increased from about 1 in 14 in 2006 to about 1 in 3 last year.


The Pentagon arrived at its findings both by compiling sexual assault reports and carrying out a survey in which more than 150,000 of the Defense Department’s 1.2 million men and 227,000 women responded.

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The survey found that about 14,900 sexual assaults of some kind occurred in 2016, down from about 34,000 in 2006.

Women remain at a greater risk of sexual assault in the military because about 85 percent of the force is made up of men, but the percentage that is attacked has declined from about 6.8 percent in 2006 to 4.3 percent in 2016, the report said.

The percentage of men who face assault has fallen from about 1.8 percent in 2006 to about 0.6 percent now, defense officials said.

The report did not contain all good news, however. While the frequency with which victims report assaults has increased, 58 percent of those who do — and two-thirds of women — still face some form of backlash in their unit, defense officials found.


The negativity included retaliation, but also mixed responses from other service members who were aware of the abuse.

A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the report ahead of its release, said the Defense Department still needs to better address how sexual assault victims are treated by colleagues.

‘‘That’s a cultural issue we still have to get after,’’ the official said.

A separate investigation by the Associated Press found that thousands of students across the country have been sexually assaulted, by other students, in high schools, junior highs, and even elementary schools.

Relying on state education records, supplemented by federal crime data, the yearlong investigation uncovered roughly 17,000 official reports of sex assaults by students over four years, from fall 2011 to spring 2015.


Though that figure represents the most complete tally yet of sexual assaults among the nation’s 50 million K-12 students, it does not fully capture the problem because such attacks are greatly underreported, some states don’t track them, and those that do vary widely in how they classify and catalog sexual violence. A number of academic estimates range sharply higher.

In Massachusetts, the state Education Department tracks incidents of sexual assault, such as rape and forcible fondling, only when they resulted in student suspensions, expulsions or other discipline. The state provides that information online by school name and, over the four-year period, reported 335 such incidents, the AP reported.

‘‘Schools are required to keep students safe,’’ said Charol Shakeshaft, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor who specializes in school sexual misconduct. ‘‘It is part of their mission. It is part of their legal responsibility. It isn’t happening. Why don’t we know more about it, and why isn’t it being stopped?’’

Elementary and secondary schools have no national requirement to track or disclose sexual violence, and they feel tremendous pressure to hide it. Even under varying state laws, acknowledging an incident can trigger liabilities and requirements to act.