A soldier stands watch over colleagues in eastern Afghanistan in 2011. (Staff Sgt. Charles Crail/U.S. Army)

The estimated amount of sexual assault on both men and women in the military has declined over the last decade, according to a new Pentagon report.

Because many service members choose not to report assaults, the Pentagon tries to estimate the scope of the problem by carrying out a survey. The results last year found that about 14,900 sexual assaults of some kind occurred in 2016, compared to about 34,000 in 2006. The Pentagon arrived at its findings both by compiling sexual assault reports and carrying out a survey in which more than 150,000 service members responded.

The number of assaults reported inched up to an all-time high, with 6,172 reports in fiscal 2016 compared to 6,083 in 2015, the report said. The figures include everything from groping to rape, and is still believed to represent progress because a Pentagon survey found that the frequency with which a sexual assault victim reports an attack has increased from about 1 in 14 in 2006 to about 1 in 3 last year. That ratio was about 1 in 4 the year before.


 

Navy Rear Adm. Ann Burkhardt, director of the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said that the data suggests the military is on the right track, but more work must be done.

“Everyone must understand that getting help is a sign of strength,” she said. She later added: “We’re not confusing progress with success.”

Women remain at a greater risk of sexual assault in the military because about 85 percent of the force is made up of men, but the number who are attacked has declined from about 6.8 percent in 2006 to 4.3 percent in 2016, the report said. The number of men who face assault has fallen from about 1.8 percent in 2006 to about 0.6 percent now, defense officials said.

The report did not contain all good news, however. While the frequency with which victims report assaults has increased, 58 percent of those who do — and two-thirds of women — still face some form of backlash in their unit, defense officials found. The negativity included retaliation as well as mixed responses from other service members who were aware of the abuse.

Burkhardt said stopping retaliation is a critical area that the Pentagon is still addressing.

The report was released as the U.S. military, and the Marine Corps in particular, copes with a scandal in which nude photographs of service members have been shared online without their permission. Those cases are not reflected in the statistics, but represent sexual harassment that the Pentagon is still coping with, senior defense officials said Monday.

The most prominent way in which service members shared the photographs was through a Facebook group called Marines United. A member of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Special Agent Curtis Evans, told reporters last month that the investigation focused on about 1,200 people, including 725 active-duty service members.