Sexual assault in military has spiked by nearly 40 percent, Pentagon says

By Danielle Garrand

/ CBS News

McSally was "mortified" reporting her rape

The Department of Defense on Thursday released a biennial anonymous survey that estimated 20,500 service members experienced some kind of "contact or penetrative sexual assault" in 2018. The estimated number is a jump from the 2016 report, when 14,900 people were estimated to have been sexually assaulted.

The survey showed active-duty women in the military experience sexual assault at a much higher rate than men. Sexual assault refers to a "range of crimes" including rape, sexual assault, and forcible sodomy. About 6.2 percent of women indicated experiencing a sexual assault in the 2018 report, while 4.3 percent indicated in the 2016 report. There was no increase in the number of men indicating a sexual assault from the 2016 report — 0.7 percent.

Service members between the ages of 17 and 24 who work, train or live in close proximity to each other account for the vast majority of sexual assaults, according to the survey. Military women indicated offenders were most often military men who they considered to be a friend or acquaintance. More than half of men indicated their offenders were male, with 30 percent indicating their offender was female and 13 percent said their offenders were a mix of men and women acting together.

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While the survey indicated a shocking increase in sexual assaults, the real numbers may be even higher. Only about one in three service members report their experience of sexual assault to a Defense Department authority. However, more are reporting than in years past, with only one in 14 service members reporting their assault to an authority in 2006.

The DOD released a detailed infographic displaying the results of much of the survey. Department of Defense

The DOD published a response to the survey on Thursday, writing, "Defense Department senior leaders look at the Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military as a call to arms against this crime." The increase in incidents of sexual assault against young women is the first since 2012, according to the response.

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan also issued a memoradum on actions to prevent and address sexual assault in the military. "To put it bluntly, we are not performing to the standards and expectations we have for ourselves or for each other" wrote Shanahan. "This is unacceptable. We cannot shrink from facing the challenge head on. We must, and will, do better."

Republican Senator from Arizona Martha McSally, who revealed she had been raped by a superior officer while serving in the Air Force in March, commented on the results of the survey on Twitter. "Sexual assault whether in the military or in communities across our country is abhorrent and intolerable," she said. "The numbers released today confirm that that the time is now to impart lasting change within the military and that it is more urgent than ever."

Sexual assault whether in the military or in communities across our country is abhorrent and intolerable. The numbers released today confirm that that the time is now to impart lasting change within the military and that it is more urgent than ever. https://t.co/aVlVHaJ4TE

— Martha McSally (@SenMcSallyAZ) May 2, 2019

This isn't the first Pentagon report showing sexual assault on the rise. A Pentagon report released in late January indicated sexual assault at three prestigious U.S. military academies spiked 50 percent in the past school year. An estimated 747 West Point and Air Force Academy cadets and Naval Academy midshipmen told an anonymous survey they were sexually assaulted in the last academic year – up from 507 three years ago.

First published on May 2, 2019 / 11:21 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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