Annual Pentagon Sexual Assault Study Shows Increase in Navy Reports, Overall Trends Unclear

April 27, 2023 7:30 PM

Sexual assault reporting by service members increased around 1 percent between Fiscal Year 2021 and 2022, according to the annual Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Report released Thursday.

In FY 2022, there were 8,942 reports, according to the annual report. The Navy reported receiving 2,052 reports, up 9 percent over the previous fiscal year, according to the Navy-specific report. Of the reports, 1,363 were unrestricted, meaning the case can be forwarded on to criminal and prosecutorial services. The other 862 were restricted, although 20 percent converted to unrestricted.

The Navy saw both an increase in restricted and unrestricted reporting, but restricted reporting increased by more than 18 percent.

Reporting continues to rise in the Navy. In FY 2021, there were 1,883 reports, which was up 9.2 percent over the previous year, USNI News previously reported. Last fiscal year’s report, released in September 2022, had the Navy’s rate of sexual assault increasing. One in 10 sailors reported unwanted sexual contact. The Marine Corps found 13.6 percent of Marines had unwanted sexual contact.

The military did see more men reporting in FY 2022, according to the report. More sexual assault reports by male service members is something Kayla Williams, a senior policy researcher at RAND Corporation, said she found encouraging because men typically report less than women. The military launched a targeted campaign in 2022 focused on male sexual assault.

However, the Department of Defense report did not include how often sexual assault is happening or how many service members reported unwanted sexual contact in the fiscal year, which makes it hard to determine what the increase in reporting means about the landscape of sexual assault and harassment in the military.

A complete picture of sexual assault and harassment better comes from looking at how reporting looks compared to the prevalence of sexual assault, said Josh Connolly, vice chair of the board of Protect Our Defenders, a group focused on eliminating sexual assault from the military. Prevalence data comes from a biannual survey, which was not conducted in 2022, said Beth Foster, executive director of force resiliency in the Department of Defense. The survey will next be conducted in the fourth quarter of FY 2023.

While reporting may be up, it is not possible to know if that indicates an increase or decrease in sexual assault without knowing if prevalence is up or not, Connolly said.

“Ideally, you want to see the … the disparity between prevalence and reporting to decrease and that’s the real meaningful dynamic you want to see. So without that context, it’s hard to say what this report indicates,” he said.

The report is the last one released before the Department of Defense begins the new special trial counsel, which is meant to bring more independence to the prosecution of sexual assault cases. The special trial counsel will start on cases on Dec. 27. Each military department has a one-star admiral or general overseeing the trial counsel, which will include military prosecutors focused on sexual assault cases, Foster said.

The special trial counsel is a result of the independent review committee on sexual assault and Congress, which included it in the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.

“This was a change that was going to be necessary to help reduce and eventually eliminate sexual assault from our force,” Foster said.

The special trial counsel is based on the perception that allegations of sexual assault were not always taken seriously and that the commander of a unit might not be able to make the best decision, especially in cases where the alleged offender and victim are in the same unit, said Nate Galbreath, deputy director for the DoD SAPR office.

While the special trial counsel is separate from the prevalence and reporting data, a baseline for prevalence ahead of the special trial counsel would have been helpful to establish a baseline, Connolly said.

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio is a reporter with USNI News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism and has covered local courts, crime, health, military affairs and the Naval Academy.
Follow @hmongilio

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