Los Angeles Times

Increase in sexual assaults at U.S. military academies

- Associated press

WASHINGTON — Reported sexual assaults at U.S. military academies shot up during the 2021-22 school year, and 1 in 5 female students reported in an anonymous survey that they had experience­d unwanted sexual contact, the Associated Press has learned.

U.S. officials said student-reported assaults at the Army, Navy and Air Force academies jumped 18% overall compared with the previous year. The increase occurred largely in the Navy, which had nearly double the number of reported assaults in 2022 compared with 2021. It’s unclear whether the phasing out of

COVID-19-related restrictio­ns contribute­d to the increase, including at the U.S. Naval Academy, which is directly adjacent to bars in downtown Annapolis, Md.

A student survey accompanyi­ng the report found increases in all types of unwanted sexual contact — from touching to rape — at all the schools. It cites alcohol as a key factor.

The military services and the academies have struggled for years to combat sexual assault and harassment, with myriad prevention, education and treatment programs. But despite volumes of research and expanded programs, the numbers continue to grow. Young Army soldiers last month dismissed videos and training as outdated and told service leaders that small group discussion­s would be more effective.

The increases have triggered outrage on Capitol Hill and a steady stream of legislatio­n. But the changes have not appeared to make a dent in the problem, although officials argue that expanded assistance programs have encouraged more victims to report the crimes.

According to U.S. officials, 155 students reported assaults during the 2022 school year, compared with 131 the previous year. Of those, students at the U.S. Naval Academy reported 61 — nearly double the school’s total for the previous year, when there were 33, which was by far the least at all the academies for that year.

Cadets at the Air Force Academy in Colorado reported 52, the same as the previous year, and those at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York reported 42, a slight decrease from the previous year’s 46.

Not all of the assaults happened while the students were enrolled in the academies. Because students are encouraged to report assaults, they sometimes come forward to talk about events that happened in the years before they started school there. As a result, 16 students reported an assault in the 2021-22 school year that occurred prior to joining the military.

Thirty-five cases involved civilians, active-duty service members and prep school students who allegedly were assaulted by someone who was a student. Altogether, the total number of reported assaults with any connection to a student was 206 — about 28% higher than last year’s 161.

U.S. officials provided details about the findings on condition of anonymity because the report had not yet been released.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a brief dip in cases at the academies during the shortened 2019-20 school year, when in-person classes were canceled and students were sent home in the spring to finish the semester online.

At the start of the 2020-21 school year, students faced restrictio­ns due to the ongoing pandemic. But as those were slowly scaled back, and bars and restaurant­s reopened, the numbers began to increase again. Officials said it’s hard to tell what, if any, impact the pandemic had on assaults during the 2021-22 school year.

The Pentagon puts out two reports every year on the number of sexual assaults reported by military academy students and by U.S. service members.

Because sexual assault is such an underrepor­ted crime, the department also conducts anonymous surveys every two years to get a clearer picture of the problem among both students and the active-duty population.

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