Reports of sexual assaults in US military drop for first time in nearly a decade

profile photo
By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

Reports of sexual assaults in the US military dropped for the first time in nearly a decade, according to a new Pentagon report released on Thursday, breaking what had been an upward trend in recent years.

A confidential survey also found the number of service members who experienced some type of unwanted sexual contact dropped nearly 20%, a reduction which left the Pentagon “cautiously optimistic” that its efforts to target sexual assault and harassment are beginning to show results.

7,266 service members reported a sexual assault in 2023, a decrease from 7,378 the previous year. Although the change is small, it is the first time the Defense Department has seen a decrease in the number of reports since 2015.

Meanwhile, an estimated 29,061 service members experienced some type of unwanted sexual contact, a dramatic decrease from an estimated 35,875 in 2021. These estimates come from a confidential survey conducted every two years to understand the wider prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military. The decrease in the estimated prevalence of unwanted sexual contact was seen across all military services to varying degrees.

In a statement after the release of the report, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “These early findings are encouraging, and I am grateful for the leadership of many across the Department who have committed the time and made the investments to produce these promising results.”

The Pentagon acknowledged it is not completely clear why the numbers decreased.

“While it’s impossible for us to know exactly why we’re seeing this decrease in sexual assault prevalence, we are cautiously optimistic that the department’s unprecedented investment is having an impact, particularly when it comes to our focus on prevention and building healthy climate,” said Beth Foster, executive director of the Pentagon’s Office of Force Resiliency.

Lloyd Austin made tackling what he called the “scourge” of sexual assault one of his top priorities when he came into the Pentagon at the beginning of the Biden administration.

In a recorded message for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, Austin made clear his longstanding position. “The only acceptable number of sexual assaults is zero,” he said late last month.

In 2021, Austin stood up an independent review commission to look at how best to address sexual assault and harassment within the military, ultimately taking major steps that fundamentally change how the military handles such cases.

“That work is starting to bend the curve,” Foster said.

As of last December, sexual assault cases are now tried outside the chain of command, a move that critics of the military justice system had long advocated. Instead, they are handled by new offices of Special Trial Counsel within the services, a system designed to give more confidence for victims reporting sexual assault.

In fiscal year 2024, Austin committed more than $1 billion on efforts to reduce sexual assault and harassment, nearly doubling the funding from recent years, Foster said. The Pentagon believes the investment will help with recruiting and military readiness.

“We still have more to do,” Austin said in his message. Austin approved all 82 recommendations from the Independent Review Commission on sexual assault and prevention, directing the Defense Department to implement the changes by fiscal year 2028.

The-CNN-Wire & 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

author photo
About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.