Military and Police

Annual Defense Department Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at Service Academies Released

The Department of Defense recently released the Congress-mandated annual report on sexual harassment and violence at the Military Service Academies. The purpose of the report is to show the “effectiveness of the policies, training, and procedures of each Military Service Academy (MSA), with respect to sexual harassment and violence,” wrote Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs James N. Stewart in his cover letter to Representative Adam Smith, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Senator James Inhofe, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Acting as Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Stewart sent over the collected data and analysis that the Defense Department conducted to evaluate the state of sexual violence and harassment at the service academies.

Collected over the 2017-2018 school year, the data showed an increase in reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment compared to similar data collected in 2016. The overall data showed increases, but Stewart noted that reports varied by each academy and the gender of those responding.

What does this data mean? What does it mean for the future of our nation’s training programs for military leaders?

Cadets in formation at the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY. (Credit: Department of Defense/Wikimedia Commons)

Data Dynamics

When looking at any report, it is important to know exactly what data was collected, where it came from, and how it was analyzed.

Data was collected at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY (Army), the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD (Navy), and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorodo Springs, CO (Air Force). Each service academy also collected responses from cadets and midshipmen through self-assessment surveys, which were included in the report.

Stewart noted in his opening letter that “the results this year do not reflect the large investment of attention, time, and resources dedicated to these problems, including the recent implementation of the Secretary’s June 2017 requirement for the MSAs to develop plans to address sexual harassment and sexual assault.” Plans adopted in September 2018 were also not able to have an impact on the March-April 2018 biennial surveys.

Midshipmen pass by during a ceremonial parade at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD. (Credit: U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons)

Key Measures to Address

Four specific areas that needed particular focus in future programming were identified in June 2017. According to the report, each academy was directed by Defense Department leadership to develop a plan to address:

  • Promotion of responsible alcohol choices
  • Reinvigoration of prevention of sexual assault
  • Enhancement of a culture of respect
  • Improvement in reporting of sexual assault and sexual harassment

Data about sexual violence and unwanted sexual contact was collected, including official reports made and responses to the self-assessment surveys submitted by cadets and midshipmen.

Sexual harassment was also considered, looking at data from official complaints as well as the same self-assessment surveys.

Cadets in formation at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, CO. (Credit: U.S. Air Force/Wikimedia Commons)

An Increase in Sexual Violence

Instances of unwanted sexual contact, including rape, attempted rape, and other nonconsensual intimate physical contact, also increased from 12.2 percent in 2016 to 15.8 percent. The specific data showed those increases were for women at the U.S. Military Academy and Air Force Academy, while increases for men were at the Military Academy.

Unfortunately, the actual number of reported cases at the service academies, 117 total across all three, was very similar to those reported last year. The increase in instances was reported through self-assessment surveys rather than documented, reported cases.

An increase in sexual assaults sounds alarming, but work remains to grow programs that encourage victims to come forward. A Justice Department report released in 2016 showed that “nearly 80 percent of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported” across the larger population. Cadets and midshipmen who have experienced sexual assault have the option to make a Restricted Report, which is limited in scope and focuses on medical and psychological care for the victim, or an Unrestricted Report, which provides the same care as well as investigation and prosecution of the alleged offender.

Sexual harassment instances were reported overall at 50 percent for women and 16 percent for men. Increases were seen at the U.S. Military Academy for men and at the U.S. Naval Academy for both men and women. The instances remained the same from 2016 to 2017 at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

While half of women and almost one-fifth of men said that they had experienced sexual harassment during the last year, only seven informal complaints were made across all three academies during that same year. That is an alarming difference, especially considering that that is a decrease from the previous year. Reporting is decreasing but instances of sexual harassment are increasing.

A Brighter and Safer Future

This data and its analysis will help inform future programming and training focuses to address the needs identified.

“The Department is forging ahead with efforts designed to support the academies, including technical assistance, programmatic evaluations, and new avenues for reporting,” wrote Stewart. Future changes include increased prevention efforts following a visit to the academies during the summer. Data presented in the next year’s report will help evaluate the effectiveness of these changes.

Military personnel face numerous hardships and danger. Future military leaders training at military service academies are reminded of the burdens of leadership and selfless service each day. Upon graduation, every one of them will join the ranks of America’s military—ready to put their life on the line and face threats to defend our country. Threats should never come from their fellow brothers or sisters in arms. Our nation’s service academies have a lot of work in front of them to increase accountability for both themselves and their students. The future of America’s military and the American people counting on them deserve nothing less.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Katie Begley

Katie Begley is a US Naval Academy graduate and former Surface Warfare Officer. In addition to being a military spouse, she is a freelance writer specializing in travel, education, and parenting subjects. Katie has worked in numerous communications roles for volunteer organizations and professionally for a local parenting magazine.

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