Sexual assaults reported by students at the three US military academies rose 23% in 2012, the Pentagon said on Friday, prompting US defense decretary Leon Panetta to ask the military service secretaries for a "strong and immediate response."
Eighty cases of sexual assault were reported by cadets and midshipmen at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York during the 2011-2012 academic year, the Pentagon said in a report. That compares to 65 the previous year, officials said. Most of the victims were women, but four were men. It was the third straight year of increases, from a low of 25 in 2009. Prior to that, reported sexual assault cases had fallen regularly from 42 in 2006, when the Pentagon first began tracking the issue at the direction of Congress, the Pentagon said in its annual report on sexual harassment and violence at the academies. "Despite our considerable and ongoing efforts, this year's annual report ... demonstrates that we have a persistent problem," Panetta said in a memorandum to the military service secretaries. He said the lack of progress merited "a strong and immediate response" and asked the services to identify "new ways to advance a climate of dignity and respect" at the academies and report back to him by the end of March. The academies are implementing programs to try to reduce sexual assaults. At the same time, they are attempting to create an environment that encourages reporting of the crimes. "Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes in the United States," the report said. "A strategic priority for the department is to increase the number of sexual assault reports made to authorities by victims in order to provide them with needed support and services and to hold those who commit sexual assault appropriately accountable." The Pentagon surveys students every two years to assess gender relations at the schools. The survey conducted as part of this year's report found that 12.4 percent of women and 2 percent of men had reported unwanted sexual contact during the previous 12 months - statistically unchanged from the prior survey. Fifty-one percent of women reported experiencing sexual harassment during the previous year, down from 56 percent in the 2010 survey. Ten percent of men reported experiencing sexual harassment, statistically unchanged from the earlier survey. (Reporting By David Alexander; Editing by Will Dunham)