PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — During the 2017 fiscal year, 5,277 servicemembers reported a sexual assault which occurred sometime during their military service, a 10 percent increase from 2016.
According to the report filed by the Department of Defense, the high increase may be a good thing because it shows troops are willing to come forward to their superiors to report cases, although not everyone agrees.
Every branch of the military saw an increase in reports of sexual assault reports. The Marine Corps led the charts with 14.7 percent more reports in 2017 compared with 2016.
In a letter to the Committee on Armed Services, Under Secretary of Defense Robert Wilkie said, “we consider the large increase as an indicator that service members continue to gain confidence in the department’s sexual assault program.
Retired Navy Captain Lory Manning who now works as the director of government relations at the Service Women’s Action Network, isn’t convinced.
“That’s one interpretation,” said Manning. “The other is that it’s just happening more. Or possibly it’s a little but of both.”
The report notes they cannot currently make any assumptions relating the amount of sexual assaults to the amount of reports.
The Department of Defense did say there was enough evidence to take disciplinary action in 62 percent of cases. Convictions, however, were slightly down.
Then there’s the retaliation numbers. This year’s Military Investigation and Justice Survey, included in the report, says 70% of those surveyed perceived some sort of retaliation as a result of reporting sexual assault.
Retired Army Colonel Ellen Haring who works as the director of research and programs at SWAN, says that’s a problem.
“What’s clear to me about retaliation is that the military doesn’t take it seriously,” explained Haring. “If a victim can report and then her colleagues retaliate against her, then clearly the leadership is not supporting her. ”
10 On Your Side asked retired Navy captain Lory Manning if the military was doing enough to combat sexual assault. She said no. “We’ve been talking about this since 1991 and it hasn’t gone down one percentage point.”
“I think that all of they’re focus has been on responding after an assault has occurred,” said Haring. “The focus is on victims, the focus in on prosecution, but it’s not on changing the culture. Until we take a serious look at our culture we’re not going to prevent the behavior in the first place.”
Manning did also note “they’ve done a lot of really good things with Congress’s help to to change the uniform code of military justice to make these easier to prosecute. But they haven’t done, as Ellen said and I agree, much to prevent it in the first place.”
In the report the Department of Defense says they’ve made progress combating sexual assault in the past decade, however, they acknowledge there’s still much more work to do.