The US military saw a 1% increase in sexual assaults last year, according to the Pentagon’s latest annual report.
There were 7,378 reports of sexual assault against service members in 2022, according to the Fiscal Year 2022 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military, released on Thursday. That is up from 7,260 reports of assault in 2021.
All of the services aside from the Army saw an increase in reports from last year, officials said during a briefing on the report on Thursday: the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force saw a 9%, 3.6%, and 13% increase in reports, respectively. The Army, meanwhile, saw a 9% decrease.
Overall, the number of reports of assault has consistently increased in the military since 2010.
And while the Defense Department is working through implementing dozens of recommendations from an independent review commission on sexual assault, officials said commanders and service members on the ground still have a responsibility to do their part.
“At the end of the day, we can only do so much at the headquarters level,” Beth Foster, director of the Office of Force Resiliency, told reporters. “But, you know, really, this is on our commanders, on our [non-commissioned officers], our frontline leaders to make sure that they are addressing this problem. And, you know, the Secretary says … we need to lead on that. And that that is for at every level of the department.”
In addition to the 7,378 reports of assault that occurred during military service in 2022, there were also 797 Defense Department civilians who reported being assaulted by service members, and 580 service members who reported being assaulted before their military service.
The report released Thursday looks at the number of sexual assault reports, as opposed to a separate report the Pentagon releases every other year that estimates the total number of service members experiencing sexual assault. Ideally, the Defense Department has said a sign of progress would be seeing the number of reports go up, while the prevalence of sexual assault go down.
However, the 2021 prevalence survey – released August 2022 – showed an in increase in how many service members were estimated to have experienced assault. The Pentagon estimated that 35,875 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2021.
Also, within the report released on Thursday was data showing a decrease in how many cases of assault, which had evidence that supported the charges, were referred to court-martial by commanders. Only 37% of cases were referred to court-martial in 2022, which falls in line with a steady decrease over the last 10 years.
Instead, there has been an increase in cases that are dealt with through administrative action and discharges of offenders. Dr. Nate Galbreath, the deputy director for the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, told reporters on Thursday that the decrease in court-martials is in part because of support being provided to victims of military sexual assault.
“One of the things that we’ve seen year after a year since 2015, with the addition of the Special Victims Counsel program – which are attorneys that represent victims throughout the military justice process – is that victims have made it abundantly clear that they would like to help see the department hold their offenders appropriately accountable, but they’d like to do it through nonconfrontational means, and that’s essentially what we see in the percentages with administrative actions and discharges and non-judicial punishment,” Galbreath said.
He added, however, that the decrease in taking sexual assault cases to court is also due to victims not having faith in the military justice system to handle their cases appropriately.
The military services’ newly appointed Special Trial Counsels, who are appointed officers that report directly to the service secretaries and have exclusive authority to prosecute sexual assault cases, will be charged with restoring “that perception of fairness back into the system.”
Ultimately, officials reiterated that while work is ongoing, the ongoing trend of sexual assault isn’t going to change “overnight.”
“We certainly, if we could flip a switch and make this change instantly, we would,” Foster said. “But we know this is going to take some time.”