Reports of sexual assault at US military academies jumped significantly during the 2021-22 school year, the Associated Press revealed on Friday, citing a report based on the findings of an anonymous survey.
The survey found an 18% increase in student-reported sexual assaults compared with the previous year, according to the Pentagon report obtained by AP, with one in five female students saying they had experienced unwanted sexual contact.
The increase was driven mostly by the US Naval Academy, where reports of assaults almost doubled in 2022 with 61 cases, compared to 33 cases the previous year.
“It’s unclear whether the phasing out of Covid-19-related restrictions contributed to the increase” the AP said, noting that the naval school is “directly adjacent to bars in downtown Annapolis, Maryland.”
The report also noted that respondents cited alcohol as a key factor in over half of the assaults and recommended additional policies on student drinking.
The Air Force Academy in Colorado reported 52 cases, the same as the previous year, while the US Military Academy at West Point in New York reported 42, down from 46 and marking the only decrease.
The Pentagon conducts the surveys anonymously to get “a more accurate depiction” of the problem, given that sexual assault is an underreported crime, AP said.
The data also included cases where civilians, active-duty troops and prep school students reported being assaulted by a student at the academies. The study also encouraged students to report unwanted sexual contact prior to beginning studies, with 16 saying their assault happened before enrolling.
“All together, the total number of reported assaults with any connection to a student was 206 — about 28% higher than last year’s total of 161,” according to AP.
In 2021, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that combating sexual misconduct in the US armed forces was one of his “top priorities.” Reports of assaults dropped that year amid shortened school terms due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The latest statistics come after reports of sexual assault at the US Merchant Marine Academy earlier this month. According to a CNN report on Wednesday, a “culture of fear” at the school has made victims reluctant to report their assailants and trigger an investigation.