The Pentagon's annual sexual assault report for 2017 found a 10 percent increase in the number of service members reporting sexual assault. The report, released Monday, says that a total of 5,277 service members reported sexual assault, 4,193 of whom were women. This represented reports of sexual assault made in fiscal year 2017 for incidents that took place at some time during military service. The military received 4,794 such reports from service members in 2016.
Most of the increase was a result of more women reporting incidents, the Defense Department said. More service members than ever before are reporting sexual assault, which the Pentagon views as a positive development, signaling that members of the military are continuing to gain confidence in the department's system for responding to sexual assault.
Sexual assault is a notoriously underreported crime. The last time the Pentagon did a survey for the prevalence of sexual assault in 2016, it estimated 14,900 men and women had experienced it while only 4,794 had reported it. That estimate of 14,900 is down from 34,200 in 2006, leading the Pentagon to conclude that fewer service members are actually experiencing sexual assault.
Undersecretary of Defense Robert Wilkie said in a letter to Congress accompanying the report that sexual assault reporting has increased by over 88 percent within the Defense Department since 2012. He went on to say that between fiscal years 2012 and 2016, the occurrence of sexual assault in the military shows a decrease of 50 percent for men and about 30 percent for women. The department sees this as evidence that it is making progress in eliminating sexual assault from the military.
The biggest increase in reporting occurred in the Marines, which was up nearly 15 percent.
As for punishment, commanders found enough evidence to take some kind of disciplinary action in 62 percent of the cases. In those cases, 53 percent went to court martial. The report says that disciplinary action wasn't possible for the other 38 percent of the cases for reasons related to evidence or other factors.
CBS News' David Martin contributed to this report.