U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
(AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

The number of reported sexual assaults involving students at three military service academies went down in the most recent school year, capping a year that saw the military continue to struggle with high-profile cases among leaders and in the schools.

A new Pentagon report finds that there were 61 reported sexual assaults at the academies in the 2013-14 school year, compared with 70 in 2012-13. The report includes the results of an anonymous survey that shows a similar decrease in the number of students who say they experienced unwanted sexual contact.

The survey, however, also found that more than 40 percent of students who said they experienced unwanted sexual contact said they also believed that they faced retaliation, either from their leadership or socially from other cadets or midshipmen. The report is set to be made public Wednesday, but The Associated Press obtained the academy data ahead of the release.

This was the first time the academy report looked at potential retaliation, but the findings mirror a recent survey of the U.S. military that said more than 60 percent of the women who said they filed sexual assault complaints also said they experienced some type of retaliation. Those numbers raised concerns among congressional lawmakers, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in December that officials must tackle the retaliation problem head on.

“When someone reports a sexual assault, they need to be embraced and helped, not ostracized or punished with retribution,” Hagel said at the time.

The Pentagon has been under increasing pressure from top leaders and lawmakers to reduce sexual assault across the military, improve treatment for victims and address some of the underlying problems, such as alcohol use.

At the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, officials have specifically pointed to drinking and disrespect and poor leadership among athletes as potential problems.

According to the data, the number of reported sexual assaults increased at West Point and the Naval Academy, but decreased at the Air Force Academy.

The overall decline, from 70 to 61, was largely the result of a drop in the number of reports filed by civilians against cadets and midshipmen and a decline in the number of students reporting assaults that occurred before they attended the academies. There were 53 reports of sexual assault filed in the 2013-14 school year by cadets or midshipmen who said the attack happened while they were at the academy. That number was the same in the 2012-13 school year.

According to the 2014 anonymous survey, about 8 percent of female students and 1 percent of men said they experienced unwanted sexual contact, compared to 12.4 percent and 2 percent respectively when the questionnaire was last done, in 2012. That represents a decrease of about 200 assault victims, the Pentagon estimated.

Based on the decline in reports and the survey results, the Pentagon concluded that 1 in every 6 victims came forward in the last year, compared to 1 in 10 the previous year. Military officials have been developing programs and training across the services to reduce the stigma and encourage victims to report assaults.

Congress has continued to press for changes to the military justice system, complaining that the Pentagon has not done enough to combat sexual assault across the military and make it easier and more acceptable for victims to report harassment and assaults. At the same time, high-profile assaults continue to rattle the services and the academies.

At the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, an Army sergeant was sentenced to jail and given a bad-conduct discharge last year after he was accused of secretly photographing at least a dozen women, including in a bathroom where they were in various states of undress. At the Naval Academy, a highly publicized case involving sexual assault charges against members of the football team wrapped up last March. Charges were dropped against two of the men and the third was acquitted.

Meanwhile, some military officers have been fired from their jobs in the past year as a result of inappropriate sexual relationships or assault charges.

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