The Pentagon's latest survey on reported sexual assaults in the military show that in 2021 an estimated 8.4% of active duty women and 1.5% of active duty men indicated experiencing at least one incident of unwanted sexual contact.
The survey also showed that despite major efforts to address the issue of sexual assault in the military, including reforms instituted last year, women in the military services have significantly lost trust in the military to follow through on their cases or treat them with respect.
Using a new metric for the survey, carried out every two years, the number of service members who reported they had experienced unwanted sexual contact increased significantly, to a record 35,800. However, the change in metric made it difficult to make a full comparison to the estimated 20,400 reported in the most recent survey.
Unwanted sexual contact is defined as ranging from groping or abusive sexual contact, to attempted sexual contact, to rape. The new survey found the highest increase was in the category for non-penetrative sexual assault and attempted sexual assault.
The number of sexual assaults on service members reported in 2021 also spiked to a new high of 7,249, representing a 13% increase over last year's numbers. The increased number of reports was due in large measure to a 25.6% increase in the number of reported incidents in the Army, a number far higher than the 9.2 % increase reported by the Navy, the 1.7% increase in the Marine Corps, and the 2.4% increase in the Air Force.
"The results are a tragic reminder of the challenges we face and the absolute need for continued leadership engagement, historic reforms that remain underway, and a focus on the latest and prevention so we can achieve the foundational change we need," Elizabeth Foster, executive director of the Pentagon's Office of Force Resiliency, told reporters on Thursday.
"These numbers are tragic and extremely disappointing," she added. "On an individual level, it is devastating to conceptualize that these numbers mean that over 35,000 service members lives and careers were irrevocably changed by these crimes."
According to the Pentagon study, 8.4% of active-duty female service members are estimated to have experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact in 2021, an increase from 6.2%, the highest percentage since data measurements began in 2006. The figure for men increased to 1.5% up from .7%, the second-highest level recorded.
There were steep 25 to 30% drops in the trust that service members have in the military’s system to handle their cases and protect their privacy after reporting an incident.
For example, 39% of women said they trusted the system, down from 66% in 2018, and the number of female service members who said the military to protect their privacy following the report of an incident dropped steeply by 34%, down from 63% in 2018.