The problem of sexual assault in the military leapt to the forefront in Washington on Tuesday as the Pentagon released a survey estimating that 26,000 people in the armed forces were sexually assaulted last year, up from 19,000 in 2010, and an angry President Obama and Congress demanded action.
The study, based on a confidential survey sent to 108,000 active-duty service members, was released two days after the officer in charge of sexual assault prevention programs for the Air Force was arrested and charged with sexual battery for grabbing a woman’s breasts and buttocks in an Arlington, Va., parking lot.
In a separate report made public on Tuesday, the military recorded 3,374 sexual assault reports last year, up from 3,192 in 2011, suggesting that many victims continue not to report the crimes for fear of retribution or a lack of justice under the department’s system for prosecution.
Pentagon officials said nearly 26,000 active-duty men and women had responded to the sexual assault survey. Of those, 6.1 percent of women and 1.2 percent of men said they had experienced sexual assault in the past year, which the survey defined as everything from rape to “unwanted sexual touching” of genitalia, breasts, buttocks or inner thighs.
From those percentages, the Pentagon extrapolated that 12,100 of the 203,000 women on active duty and 13,900 of the 1.2 million men on active duty had experienced some form of sexual assault. In 2010, a similar Pentagon survey found that 4.4 percent of active-duty women and fewer than 0.9 percent of active-duty men had experienced sexual assault.
Women in combat zones are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by the enemy.