Sexual assaults at US military service academies at highest rate on record

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By Haley Britzky, CNN

(CNN) -- Incidents of sexual assault at US military service academies were at the highest rate on record in the 2021-2022 academic year, according to a new report released on Friday.

There was an 18% increase in reported sexual assaults across the three academies in 2021-2022 compared to the the 2017-2018 academic year, according to the Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies. There were also 13% more women and 4% more men at the academies who were sexually harassed during the year than in 2017-2018.

"Our numbers indicate that this is the highest sexual assault estimated prevalence rate for both women and men at the military service academies since the department started measuring in 2006," Beth Foster, executive director of the Office of Force Resiliency, told reporters on Friday. "These numbers are extremely disappointing and upsetting. I mean, there's really no other way to see it."

In a memo to the military service secretaries on Friday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin echoed that concern and described the new numbers as "an alarming increase" in assault, harassment, and "other concerning behaviors."

"I expect you to reverse the harmful trends at our [military service academies]," Austin said. "Now is the time to employ the resources with which we have been entrusted and advance our common way forward."

In total, the Pentagon estimates that 1,136 men and women at the service academies were assaulted, while 3,939 experienced some form of sexual harassment.

There was an increase among all three types of unwanted sexual contact that the department observes, including penetration, attempted penetration, and unwanted touching, Dr. Ashlea Klahr, the director of Health and Resilience Research at the Department of Defense, told reporters on Friday. Alleged sexual offenders were most often fellow students of the victim, which is consistent with reports from years past; assault is most often happening on-campus, followed by off-campus social events, she said.

The report also found "significant declines" in students' perception of efforts from academy leaders to prevent assault and harassment: 59% of women trusted academy leadership compared to 72% in the 2017-2018 school year, and 76% of men trusted academy leadership compared to 83%.

The prevalence report that was supposed to be released in 2020 was not conducted because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In his memo on Friday, Austin directed the department to take a number of actions in an effort to curve the trend, including conducting on-site evaluations of the academies, with results being briefed by the academy superintendents no later than July 21 this year and issuing policies that will separate victims and alleged perpetrators in class and mandatory activities.

"Our future leaders are counting on you," Austin concluded in his memo. "We must lead the change we require."

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