Though the military received more reports of sexual assault in 2013 than ever before, the officials tasked with dealing with the issue actually consider the trend an improvement: That’s because they believe an increase in reported cases suggests that victims who wouldn’t have come forward in the past are now speaking out, thanks to some high-profile cases and the subsequent outrage in Congress.
Data obtained by the Associated Press shows that reported sexual assaults rose by more than 50 percent — over 5,000 were filed during the fiscal year ending September 30 (that number was just 3,374 in 2012). Across the services, the Air Force had the lowest rate, with a 45 percent increase, while the Marines, despite being the smallest service, led with a high of 86 percent. Meanwhile, the Navy had an increase of 46 percent and the Army, as the largest military service, had a 50 percent jump.
Jill Loftus, director of the Navy’s sexual-assault program, believes that the increase doesn’t mean that more abuses are taking place: “More likely, we have people who understand what sexual assault is. And officials are hearing that more people are comfortable coming forward,” she said, though even a rise as drastic as this seems a vast misrepresentation, considering an anonymous survey conducted earlier this year revealed that about 26,000 service members reported some type of unwanted sexual contact or sexual assault in the past.
Higher up the totem pole, Col. Alan R. Metzler told the AP the goal of the Pentagon’s sexual-assault prevention response office (of which he is deputy director) is “to continue efforts to increase reporting while also working more directly to reduce the survey number of 26,000 sexual harassment and assault victims.” New programs are currently being set in place to “[encourage] service members to be more vigilant, and to look out for each other and intercede if they [see] a bad situation developing. There also were moves to restrict alcohol sales, since drinking has long been associated with sexual assault and harassment.” It’ll likely take more than a dictionary definition of assault and clock-based prohibition to curb such a long-institutionalized silencing but Metzler is staying optimistic: “We’re still not where we want things to be. But we think all of this is having an effect.”