Independent survey shows decline in military sexual assaults


WASHINGTON – An independent survey confirms the prevalence of sexual assault in the military has dropped, Defense Department officials said today.

Statistics in the 2014 RAND Military Workplace Study show the percentage of active duty women who experienced unwanted sexual contact over the past year declined from 6.1 percent in 2012 to an estimated 4.3 percent in 2014.

For active duty men, the estimated prevalence rate dropped from 1.2 percent in 2012 to 0.9 percent in 2014.

Based on these rates, an estimated 18,900 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2014, down from around 26,000 in 2012.

Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Snow, the director of the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, told DoD News the statistics also show a correlation between sexual harassment and sexual assault and gives more information about the difference between men and women with regard to sexual assault. “We have suspected this, but this gives us a level of granularity that will be helpful in addressing this as we move forward,” he said.

Making Progress

These trends show the department is making progress, Snow said. He acknowledged that sexual assault is an under-reported crime, but noted that since 2012, DoD has seen a 70-percent increase in reporting. “While that’s progress, … by no means do we think this constitutes success,” he added, because we know that we still have three of four victims not coming forward.”

And that is an overall message Snow said he wants to get across: there is no silver bullet for sexual assault prevention and response. Overcoming this crime will take time, effort, knowledge and persistence, he said.

The statistics show nearly 40 percent of women who are victims of the crime come forward, but only about 10 percent of men report — so because the military is 85 percent men, there are more male victims of sexual assault than female victims in the military in terms of sheer numbers.

Snow said the survey statistics will allow his office to target programs toward male victims and improve the care victims receive.

On sexual harassment, the survey shows a clear correlation between harassment and assault, the general said. “In an environment that is perhaps permissive of sexual harassment or gender discrimination, women and men … are at greater risk of sexual assault,” he said, adding that this suggests more effort may be needed at addressing sexual harassment.

Results Confirm Military Studies

The RAND Military Workplace Study confirmed previous military studies of sexual assault, Snow noted.

“We really have two independent measures … that show there is a significant decrease in prevalence,” he said. “The fact that between 2012 and 2014 we’ve had a 25 percent decrease in the prevalence of this crime is an indication of progress.”

Linking this statistic with the increase in reporting, Snow said he sees the military closing the gap. “I’m encouraged about the dialogue going on about the crime,” he said.

During a Dec. 4 Pentagon news conference on the results of the Defense Department’s annual report on sexual assault, Snow emphasized that although the crime had become less prevalent in the military, the battle is far from won.

“No one here is declaring success,” he said. “We have much more work to do. However, any decrease in prevalence indicates that there are fewer victims of this horrible crime, and I think we all would agree that is a step in the right direction.”

Leaders get it, the general said, but first-line supervisors need still need to work on their skills. Junior noncommissioned officers and junior officers — those most in contact with the at-risk population — need more training, and they will get it, he added.

More Victims Reporting the Crime

Last year, victims made 4,660 unrestricted reports and 1,840 initial restricted reports of sexual assault. Victims can convert their restricted reports to unrestricted, and last year 20 percent did so. This was up from 15 percent in years past.

The survey shows victims were satisfied with their decision. About 72 percent of victims who responded to the survey indicated that they reported their sexual assault and would make the same decision if they had to do it over again. Further, 73 percent of respondents would recommend that others report the crime.

“I am encouraged,” Snow said. “I think the process is working, I think the dialogue is working, but ultimately we’re trying to [reinforce an ethos of honor and trust], and it’s going to take time. We’ve been able to demonstrate progress, but it’s victory on.”