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Reported sexual assaults increase at US military academies, Pentagon says

The Pentagon. (Senior Airman Perry Aston/Defense Department)

The number of reported sexual assaults at U.S. military academies jumped more than 27% in the past school year, according to the Pentagon’s latest report on sexual harassment.

Despite the spike in numbers, officials described the findings as “encouraging,” denying the stats implied an “increase in crime rate.” Instead, they argued it to mean a growth in those who feel comfortable enough to report rather than in the number of actual assault incidents.

“The Department recognizes the challenge of combating sexual assault in the Military Service Academies and the high cost of succeeding,” Elizabeth Van Winkle, executive director of the Office of Force Resiliency, said in a statement accompanying the report.

“Our Academies produce our future leaders. At every turn, we must drive out misconduct in place of good order and discipline.”

According to the annual findings, based on anonymous surveys of students at all three military academies, there were 149 reports of sexual assault involving a cadet or midshipman as either the victim or assailant during the 2018-2019 academic year.

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The number marks an increase from the previous school year, during which there were 117 incidents reported.

There’s an estimated 12,900 students attending the Army’s Military Academy at West Point in New York, the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Of last year’s reported incidents, 33 were made by or against currently enrolled midshipman at the Naval Academy, 40 at the Air Force Academy and 57 at West Point.

While emphasizing the numbers do not inherently suggest a rise in crime, the report does note incidents at all three locations remain “high.”

“While the Department has made progress combating sexual assault over the last decade, previous years’ survey data reminds us there is more to do,” the Pentagon’s acting personnel and readiness under secretary, Matthew Donovan, wrote in a letter to the Chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.

“The Department has heightened its efforts to address problematic student culture, eliminating reporting barriers and expanding our resource options. We are also committed to continuously evaluating our programs to ensure they are as effective as possible in preventing sexual assault and providing support.”

Officials are now awaiting a broader survey, expected to come out early next year, that measures the rate of unwanted sexual contact to provide additional context to the recent report.

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© 2020 New York Daily News