There were 20,500 reported sexual assaults in the military in 2018, according to a new Pentagon report, a 38% increase in the number of assaults since 2016. The results, as ABC News reports, represent “a setback for the U.S. military’s efforts to reduce sexual assault in the military.”

These numbers come from an anonymous survey the Pentagon conducts every two years. Respondents include Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine personnel. The survey defines assault as “rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy, aggravated sexual contact, abusive sexual contact and attempts to commit those offenses,” according to ABC News.

Over 85% of the victims reported knowing the perpetrators.

Nathan Galbreath, deputy director of the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, told USA Today that women between the ages of 17 and 24 were most at risk for unwanted sexual contact. “We’re very concerned about that,” he said.

The results are a setback, at least in part because sexual assault seemed to be decreasing at the time of the last survey in 2016, when ABC News reported, “Pentagon officials were encouraged by the significant drop in the estimate of sexual assaults to 14,900.” That number seemed to represent progress, because in 2006, 34,000 service members reported assaults.

In general, reports of sexual assaults in the military have trended downward since 2006, but as USA Today points out, “Concerns rose anew in 2013 when the Pentagon released a report that estimated the number of sexual assaults increased 35% from 2010 to 2012, to 26,000 victims.

At the time, Congress held a hearing with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, demanding an explanation. Military leaders announced a “zero tolerance” policy on sexual assault. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 included mandated anti-sexual assault training. Impacts of the prevention methods have been mixed, according to some experts.

As Col. Don Christensen told Task and Purpose in 2018, “Each year since 2013, we’ve seen changes passed by Congress to the [Uniform Code of Military Justice], an acknowledgement that things aren’t where they should be. … But we still haven’t gotten a major change.”

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan responded to the latest report in a statement saying, “It is clear that sexual assault and sexual harassment are persistent challenges.” He added, “To put it bluntly, we are not performing to the standards and expectations we have for ourselves or for each other. This is unacceptable. We cannot shrink from facing the challenge head on.”

In addition to the latest survey, the Pentagon is also scheduled to release the recommendations of a task force on sexual assault in the military, convened at the request of Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., a former Air Force officer and pilot who shared during an Armed Services Committee hearing in March that she was raped by a superior officer.

The exact recommendations of the sexual assault task force have not yet been revealed, but ABC News reports that “acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan tipped his hand at what the Task Force may have recommended when he told a House panel that ‘We’re going to criminalize certain activities in this next year to reflect the seriousness that we’re going to take on certain behaviors.’ ”

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