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Sexual assault reports jump at military academies, Pentagon finds

Despite the Pentagon's sexual assault awareness programs, reports at military academies rose by nearly a quarter in 2010-2011. Officials say women could be feeling more secure reporting the crimes.

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The number of sexual assaults reported on the campuses of the nation’s military academies increased by nearly a quarter over the 2010-2011 academic year, according to an annual Pentagon survey released Friday.

The dramatic increase was recorded despite efforts that defense officials have put into sexual assault awareness programs and other training to try to prevent rape and harassment on campus.

Roughly 12 percent of women who responded to the survey, and two percent of men, said they had experienced unwanted sexual contact.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in a memorandum to top Pentagon officials, expressed disappointment with the report, saying it pointed to a “persistent problem.”

But military officials who announced the results of the survey, which Congress has required the Pentagon to conduct for the past five years, attempted to put a positive spin on the report, noting that the Pentagon has been encouraging assault victims to have the confidence to come forward and report the crimes.

“A strategic priority for the Department is to increase the number of sexual assault reports made to authorities by victims in order to provide them with needed support and services,” according to the report, entitled Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies.

Now, defense officials say, that is precisely what has happened: Reports are on the rise.  

“We view an increase in reports to be a positive trend” because it is indicative “of an increase in victim confidence,” said Maj. Gen. Gary Patton, director of the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. 

It is positive, too, Patton argued at a Pentagon briefing Friday afternoon, because that means the victim who has made the report is receiving “some sort of care.”

Even so, Secretary Panetta expressed dismay at the figures themselves, which also showed that more than half of all women and 10 percent of men said they had been sexually harassed in the past 12 months. 

The response rate to the survey among the male and female students at the US military academies ranged from 67 to 88 percent.

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