A report released last month by the Pentagon found that reports of sexual harassment in the military increased from fiscal year 2016, but this is not necessarily a bad thing.
The report also found that reports of retaliation against those making reports increased as well, proving that there is still much work to be done to combat the epidemic of sexual violence in the nation’s military.
The report, compiled by a bi-annual survey, found that there was an approximate 10 percent increase in the number of sexual assault cases reported. For fiscal year 2017, which ended on September 30, there were a total of 6,769 cases reported across all military branches.
This is up from the 6,172 cases reported in FY2016. It is the largest increase since 2015. Of those, 1,200 were outside of the military’s jurisdiction.
Among those surveyed, fewer than 15,000 people described themselves as being victims of unwanted sexual contact. This is a dramatic drop from the 26,000 people when the military sexual assault crisis first made headlines in 2012.
According to the report, the Marine Corps saw the biggest increase in reported incidences of sexual assault. In FY2016 there were 870 reported cases reported. In FY2017, this number increased to 998.
But this isn’t the only trouble the Marines found itself in. In early 2017, the Marine Corps was embarrassed by a nude photo sharing scandal across social media.
The Facebook page Marines United had thousands of images of female marines, marine veterans and wives of marines in various stages of undress and compromising and sexual positions. Accompanying the photos were degrading and threatening comments.
After a lengthy investigation, it was found that the majority of the material was voluntary, however a handful of those marines still on active duty and found to be responsible were disciplined.
The Navy saw a nine percent increase in reports. In FY2017 there were 1585 reports of sexual assault. This is up from the 1450 reports in FY2016. The Air Force also saw an increase of nine percent. The Army saw an increase of eight percent.
While it may seem to some that an increase in reports of sexual assault would signal a worsening problem, according to the DOD, this isn’t the case.
In fact, increased reporting is a good thing. This means that service members are more comfortable coming forward and reporting incidence and have more confidence that the system will get them justice because sexual assault is such a sensitive, highly under-reported crime.
The data from the DOD showed that while reports increased, the incidents of reports sent to the courts for punishment actually decreased. Of all the cases reported in the previous fiscal year, 2,218 were referred for disciplinary action. 774 went through the court martial process.
This is down from 790 the previous year.
This doesn’t mean that perpetrators aren’t being punished. They are just being punished outside the military’s court system.
“It is very, very challenging to go through the court-martial process and testify. Victims may opt not to testify and commanders are now left with administrative actions and discharges to hold people appropriately accountable,” said Nathan Galbreath, the deputy director of the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.
Because fewer victims are testifying, military commanders are using administrative actions, discharges, or non-judicial punishment. There were 378 cases referred for administrative action or discharge in FY2017, up from the 260 cases in FY2016.
In addition, another 294 faced non-judicial punishment. This can include a wide variety of punishments including loss of pay, loss of rank, and even the end of someone’s military career.
In a disturbing twist, however, the reports of retaliatory behavior have gone up remarkably as well. The same DOD report found that 40 percent of those who reported sexual assault experienced some kind of retaliation.
“The department has made progress in combating sexual assault in the military,” said Rear Adm. Ann Burkhardt, the director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. “But we know that there is more work to be done.”