Marines conduct helicopter support team aerial-lift training during Hagatna Fury 21 at Kin Blue, Okinawa, Japan, Feb. 24, 2021. The exercise allows Marines to hone abilities to seize, defend and provide expeditionary sustainment for key maritime terrain. Photo By: Marine Corps Warrant Officer John Lamb

Today, the Department of Defense (DOD) released the Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies for Academic Program Year 2019-2020.

The report provides an update on the academies’ efforts to reduce and stop sexual harassment and assault at their campuses. The report also outlines the academies’ commitment to encourage reporting of sexual harassment and sexual assault, and connect victims with restorative care – even amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Failure cannot be an option. We must stop sexual assault and harassment across our entire force. Our country depends on military service academies to produce not just college graduates, but future leaders of the United States Armed Forces who can lead in a manner that reflects our values and expectations. These future leaders must combat any enemy or foe, and that fight must include eradicating these behaviors and any toxic culture that degrades our readiness from within. Although the Department has taken action to eliminate sexual assault and harassment, previous efforts simply have not been enough to maintain sustained decreases in prevalence of these unacceptable behaviors.  Those who volunteer to serve our nation’s defense must recognize they are also responsible for ensuring climates of dignity within the ranks. They must commit to this, daily, in their words and their actions to ensure an effective and cohesive military force,” said Dr. Elizabeth Van Winkle, Executive Director of the Department’s Office of Force Resiliency.

Dr. Van Winkle continued, “Although the COVID-19 pandemic required us to postpone our scheduled sexual assault prevalence survey and delayed implementation of some initiatives, the Academies are committed to not only accelerating implementation of actions currently underway but gaining momentum in taking new actions.  We will continue to leverage the latest data-informed, scientifically-advanced approaches to eliminate this scourge.”

According to the report, the academies showed greatest progress in expanding efforts that address the risk and protective factors for sexual assault and harassment.

“The Academies have an opportunity to lead by making their sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention initiatives a permanent part of their everyday business,” said Major General Clement Coward, the director of DOD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO).  “The concerning trends in data we’ve seen over the years demand that these programs stay top of mind with leadership in their planning and resourcing decisions.”

The Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies also provides the number of sexual assault reports filed at the academies. In APY 19-20, the academies received 129 total sexual assault reports involving a cadet or midshipmen (including cadet/midshipmen candidates from the military prep schools) as a victim and/or subject, down from 149 reports received the year prior. The decrease in sexual assault reporting this year occurred mainly in the 4th quarter. Students made fewer reports once academies sent students home and required social distancing.

Since sexual assault is an underreported crime, the Department traditionally measures the estimated prevalence of sexual assault every other year with an in-person survey. However, the APY 19-20 report does not contain prevalence estimates due to postponement of the academy survey. The prevalence estimates are different than the actual number of reports received; the Department encourages greater reporting so that victims may connect with restorative care and support services, and aid in the DoD’s efforts to hold alleged offenders appropriately accountable.

“Sexual assault and sexual harassment are persistent and disruptive problems that have no part in military service.  The Academies are making progress, but considerable work remains to continue reducing and stopping sexual assault at the academies. We look forward to visiting the academies this Summer to review their efforts in depth and align them with the Secretary of Defense’s vision and direction to eliminate the scourge of sexual assault and sexual harassment from our military,” Coward said. “Our work at the academies shapes the military force for years to come. As our future leaders, cadets and midshipmen will one day be responsible for promoting climates of trust, respect, and inclusion in the active force.”