The number of servicemembers who reported being sexually assaulted rose consistently over the past four years, according to an internal Pentagon report released Tuesday, despite recent efforts by the Obama administration to address the problem. But because only a fraction of servicemembers ever report assaults to their superiors, the Pentagon also conducts an anonymous survey to estimate the true scope of the problem, and those reveal a much larger number: For 2012, for example, the report estimates that the real number servicemembers experiencing “unwanted sexual contact” is closer to 26,000, which means about 90 percent of servicemembers assaulted kept quiet about it. (The DoD data only provide estimates for 2006, 2010, and 2012.)
This problem has persisted for years—in 2008 then Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) wrote that women in the military were more likely to be raped by fellow servicemembers than killed by enemy fire. The news comes two days after the Air Force official charged with preventing sexual assault, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, was himself charged with sexual battery. The administration’s nominee for vice commander of the Air Force Space Command is being held up in the Senate following revelations that she promoted an officer convicted of sexual assault.
The Pentagon report states that “[c]losing the gaps between prevalence and reporting will remain a key factor in determining success of our efforts.” As you can see, so far they haven’t made a tremendous amount of progress. Tuesday Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced a new set of measures to improve the military’s handling of sexual assault, saying that “we know we’ve got big problems. We know that. And we’ve addressed that, and we’ll continue to address it.”
Note: This chart is based on one presented in the secretary of defense’s sexual assault prevention and response memo released by the Pentagon yesterday.