Although the Defense Department experienced fewer instances of sexual assault and increased reporting of the crime last year, such assaults continue to negatively impact readiness, Navy Rear Adm. Ann M. Burkhardt, director of DoD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said today at a Pentagon briefing.
Unveiling the Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military for fiscal year 2016, Burkhardt said the report shows 14,900 service members were sexually assaulted last year, which is 5,400 fewer than the 20,300 sexual assault victim reports estimated in 2014.
The fiscal 2016 report also shows that one in three service members chose to report their assaults last year, which is increased from one in four people in 2014, she said, noting that 10 years ago only one in 14 service members reported the crime.
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But more work lies ahead, she said.
“[The] bond is broken when there's sexual violence or harassment; even worse when this behavior is condoned or ignored,” the director said. “Sexual assault violates the core values of our military and must never be tolerated. We have more work to do to advance dignity and respect for each and every person. It is essential to military readiness.”
She added, “The hard truth is still far too many of our people find their lives changed by this crime and there are far too many who continue to suffer in silence.”
Protecting service members from sexual assault “does protect our mission, and we will not cease our efforts until we get this right,” the admiral said.
Continuing Top Support
“We will continue our efforts to provide first-class support to those who have been victimized and to build on our progress. It's time to further evolve our prevention efforts,” the admiral said, adding that DoD will align with the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, advancing a public health approach to building safer military communities.
The Defense Department wants its military communities to have a capacity to stop sexual assault and related misconduct before it occurs, Burkhardt said.
“As a career naval officer,” she said, “I've seen first-hand how destructive sexual assault can be to the effectiveness of our fighting forces.”
Service members deserve an environment that is free from sexual assault, the admiral said.
“We also owe it to our people to deliver the best possible support for those who experience this misconduct,” she added.
Burkhardt said it’s vital to work to prevent assaults and to encourage victims to file reports.
The report showed an increase in men reporting sexual assaults, but the men surveyed said they weren’t satisfied with the support they received, the admiral said.
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Many victims of sexual assault are concerned about being stigmatized, ridiculed or experiencing retaliation if they report being assaulted, Burkhardt said, adding that DoD must do more to address victims’ concerns.
“[We] want to connect our actions to the reduction of crime and an increase in reporting. The data in the report we're releasing today … suggests we're moving closer to those goals. The estimated prevalence of sexual assault continues to trend downward, which indicates fewer active-duty men and women experience the crime,” Burkhardt said.
“We see [increased reporting] as encouraging signs that many of our efforts are working as intended,” she said. “However, the hard truth is still far too many of our people find their lives changed by this crime, and there are far too many [victims] who continue to suffer in silence.”
DoD must expand its sexual assault prevention efforts “if we expect to sustain or see further decreases in our rates of sexual assault and sexual harassment,” she said.
The department will also step up its sexual harassment prevention efforts to foster a culture of dignity and respect that military service demands, the admiral said.
“The health and well-being of our people and the readiness of the force to execute the national military strategy demands our ability to get this right,” she said.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)