The three biggest military academies reported a notable increase in the number of sexual assault cases for the year. The data caused an early winter news flurry. After a four-year decline, it seems like really bad news: this year saw 41 assault cases involving cadets or midshipmen—a 64 percent jump from last year’s 25.
What’s worse is that according to the report, those 41 are just the tip of the iceberg:
These survey results suggest that the 41 reports of sexual assault at the [military service academies] accounted for fewer than 10 percent of the incidents of unwanted sexual contact that may have actually occurred … 12.9 percent of women and 1.9 percent of men surveyed at all three service academies indicated experiencing unwanted sexual contact.
But here’s the good news (if that can even be said when it comes to sexual assault): the increase could simply indicate that more people are willing to report cases of sexual assault.
The military has been going through a bit of a makeover when it comes to sexual assaults. It changed its policy five years ago to allow victims the option to report an assault and receive treatment without having to identify the perpetrator. (Victims can decide afterward if they want to press charges.) The Defense Department is also launching a sexual assault hotline in March that would allow servicemen and women to 24/7 access to support by phone, chat, or text. And in an environment described as “a culture of intimidation,” this is a really good thing.
When a similar report was released back in March regarding servicemen and -women on active duty, the Pentagon “attributed the rise largely to an upward trend in the reporting of incidents, and said the jump did ‘not necessarily’ reflect an increase in the number of incidents.”
And they’re standing by that now. The official news release from this morning reads that the higher number of cases “may not indicate an increase in instances of sexual assault occurring, as it could also be a result of training and education and victims’ confidence in the department’s ability to respond.”
Sexual assault is a horrifying thing—and a subject that does warrant a news reaction. But is it unfair to take a little solace in the fact that this could indicate a turnaround in policy? Is that just too optimistic?
Tell us your thoughts.