The latest report from the Pentagon on military sexual assaults, due to be released on Thursday, shows a rise in the number of assaults reported in the armed services. But military officials fret that the number of men coming forward remains lower than it should.
According to the numbers in the new document, whose preliminary data was reported in December, the last year has shown a fifty percent increase in the amount of military servicemembers that informed their superiors that they were sexual assaulted. Rather than a troubling sign, officials believe that this shows a shift towards reported assaults matching up more closely with the number that researchers believe actually take place. The report released today is conducted annually and is different from the survey conducted every two years and released in 2013 that estimated 26,000 instances of sexual assault took place over the course of 2012.
Preventing sexual assault has frequently been framed as a women’s rights issue in coverage over the past year, but the numbers show that it is very much a problem that cuts across genders. In an analysis of the final data, the Associated Press found that in terms of sheer numbers, there were many more men who were victims of assault in 2013 than women. “About 6.8 percent of women surveyed said they were assaulted and 1.2 percent of the men,” the AP reports. “But there are vastly more men in the military; by the raw numbers, a bit more than 12,000 women said they were assaulted, compared with nearly 14,000 men.”
“There is still a misperception that this is a women’s issue and women’s crime,” Nate Galbreath, the senior executive adviser for the Pentagon’s sexual assault prevention office, told the Associated Press. “It’s disheartening that we have such a differential between the genders and how they are choosing to report … It’s not the damsel in distress; it’s your fellow service member that might need you to step in,” he added, saying soldiers, sailors, and pilots should treat that request for aid just like one on on the battlefield.
“For us, the 50 percent increase in reporting is significant,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John F. Kirby told the New York Times. “Obviously you want to get to zero incidents, but the fact that more victims are coming forward tells us that their confidence in the system is growing.”
There’s a good reason that confidence was low in the past. Prior to the last year’s series of high profile cases that drew attention to the issue, military sexual assault was rarely discussed in the media and veterans have repeatedly spoken out about the difficulty inherent in attempting to have their cases heard fairly. One set of veterans has even taken their legal battle with the Pentagon’s handling of these cases international, attempting to force reform through the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. And veterans are still struggling to have the Department of Veterans Affairs and Congress recognize the mental scars that result from assaults.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), author of the most recently passed reformation of the way the military handles military sexual trauma, agreed with the assessment that the new numbers were a positive sign. “These numbers show concrete progress as our recent sweeping reforms continue to take root and more victims have the confidence in the system to come out of the shadows and report these crimes,” McCaskill said in a statement.
“We know that the majority of survivors, both military and civilian, choose not to report their assaults — but this data suggests that the number of brave men and women in uniform choosing to pursue justice is increasing,” McCaskill continued. “Ultimately, one sexual assault is still one too many, so while these numbers represent progress, our fight is far from over.”