WASHINGTON — Reports of sexual assaults in the military rose sharply in 2021, once again defying efforts by the Pentagon to address a problem that has long bedeviled the men and women who serve in the country’s armed forces, two U.S. officials said Wednesday.
The increase, about 13 percent over the previous year, may be driven in part by the easing of coronavirus pandemic restrictions that were put in place in 2020, the officials said. The Pentagon has made the report available to Congress and will release it formally on Thursday, they said.
According to the latest findings, reported earlier by The Associated Press, nearly 36,000 service members said in a survey that they had experienced unwanted sexual contact, almost double the number in 2018, the officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe the report before its public release.
The Defense Department has struggled with sexual assaults and a reporting structure that required reports to be filed through the military’s chain of command. Last year, senior Pentagon leaders, after fighting efforts to change the reporting structure, indicated that they would be willing to try a new approach.
In December, Congress voted to strip military commanders of most of their authority to prosecute sexual assaults and myriad other criminal cases. Under the new law, independent military prosecutors replace commanders in determining whether those accused of sexual assault, rape, murder, domestic violence and an array of other offenses will be prosecuted.
The numbers in the latest report do not reflect the change in reporting structure.