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Military assault numbers still ticking upward

U.S. military academies reported a disturbing increase in the number of reported sexual assaults last year. Though students were taking their classes from home for much of the previous school year, the 131 assaults reported by cadets or midshipmen in 2020-21 are an increase over the pre-pandemic school year of 2018-19.

The Air Force Academy in Colorado reported 52 assaults, compared with 46 at West Point in New York and 33 at the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland. Though military officials have been working the past several years to address the problem, they say they are discouraged to see the numbers headed in the wrong direction.

But there is a bright spot in the data. One effort appears to be working. The Trust Program is led by cadets and helps train them to address sexual assault and harassment and encourage intervention when they see questionable behavior, according to a report by the Associated Press.

“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,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said, adding West Point has increased resources for victims “to ensure the academy handles each case with care.”

Good. At the very least, alleged victims of sexual assault feel less afraid or reluctant to report what has happened to them. That is important in a military atmosphere.

But lawmakers are right to be frustrated with military officials’ apparent lack of success in reducing the number of assaults in the first place — in all branches.

When the U.S. military decides it is important to solve a problem, it gets solved. The same sense of urgency applied to countless other challenges faced by the Defense Department must be applied now. When that happens, results will follow.


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