Sexual Assaults at Military Academies Rise Despite Countermeasures: Report

Reports of sexual assault increased at U.S. military academies for the 2020-21 school year, when several of the institutions allowed students to return for in-person classes, despite recent efforts by the government and military to curb the problem of sexual assault and harassment in the armed forces.

Before students were sent home to conduct remote learning in the spring 2020 semester of the 2019-20 school year as the pandemic began to spread, reported sexual assaults were already trending upward, officials told the Associated Press, describing a report of the assaults that has not yet been made public.

There were 131 combined sexual assault reports by cadets and midshipmen in the 2020-21 school year, with the largest increases coming at the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The number this year is a jump from the 88 reported in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 year and 122 the year before that, military officials told AP.

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth met with West Point officials and students this month to discuss the problem, and what steps the academy could take so students feel more comfortable reporting incidents when they happen, AP reported.

"West Point is working hard to increase cadets' trust in their reporting system while at the same time preventing events from happening in the first place," Wormuth said, adding that West Point has made other efforts like added resources for victims "to ensure the academy handles each case with care."

Last month, President Joe Biden signed an executive order altering the military's judicial code and making sexual harassment a punishable crime. The military received more than 1,700 sexual harassment claims from its service members in the 2020 fiscal year.

The National Defense Authorization Act—the yearly military defense spending bill signed into law by Biden in December—included alterations to how the military handles claims of sexual assault cases.

The key change was the new rule mandating independent prosecutors be used to investigate sexual assault claims, taking away the responsibility for the investigations from commanding officers who typically oversaw them. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York was not satisfied with the changes, however, as she wanted the inclusion of her amendment, which would have removed the investigation process from military control entirely.

An Air Force review from last September found that one in three women in the service reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment in their time in the military. Forty percent of those women said they were treated worse by other service members after filing a report, and 38 percent were told to drop the issue.

Update 2/17/22, 1:25 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional information and context regarding the military's recent history of sexual assault claims.

Military Academies Sexual Assault Reports
Reports of sexual assaults at U.S. military academies increased during the 2020-21 school year, according to a new report. Above, a cadet holds his diploma and cap during the graduation ceremony at the U.S. Military Academy on May 26, 2007, at Michie Stadium in West Point, New York. Stephen Chernin/Getty Images