US female officers during an event at a military base. File / Reuters
The Pentagon said there were 6,053 reports of sexual assaults last year, according to an anonymous, bi-annual survey. It is a record number and the highest since the US military began collecting this kind of survey data in 2004.
Taking into consideration unreported cases as well, the military survey estimated 20,500 male and female service members experienced some kind of sexual assault last year. The estimated number in 2016 was 14,900.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democratic presidential candidate who has been an advocate for overhauling rules for prosecution of sex crimes in the US military, said the data made clear that it was time for Congress to act.
"sexual assaults continue to increase dramatically while the number of cases going to trial goes down," she said. "The status quo is not working."
The report found that the odds of a military woman between the ages of 17 and 20 being sexually assaulted was one in eight.
"It is time for Congress to stop giving the failing military leadership the benefit of doubt and pass real reform empowering military prosecutors. Enough is enough," said Don Christensen, a retired colonel and former chief Air Force prosecutor who now leads the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders.
The Pentagon said it was going to make changes to deal with the spike.
"To put it bluntly, we are not performing to the standards and expectations we have for ourselves or for each other," acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said in a memo. "This is unacceptable. We cannot shrink from facing the challenge head on. We must, and will, do better."
In a briefing on Thursday, a senior official told reporters that the Pentagon was looking to make sexual harassment a stand-alone crime.
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