The Rise of Sexual Assault in the Military

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Updated: Apr 24, 2021
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The Rise of Sexual Assault in the Military essay

Sexual assault is a prevalent and growing problem in the military. According to
the DOD annual report, 14,900 military members were sexually assaulted in 2016 (8,600 women and 6,300 men) and in 2018 that number rose to 20,500. This number represents only the reported sexual assaults and it is estimated that 81% of victims did not report an assault. The reasons for underreporting are numerous but include mistrust in the military judicial system, mistrust of leadership and fear of retaliation. The question remains, why is the military seeing an increase in sexual assaults despite preventative efforts? This paper will explore why sexual assault occurs, the current military prevention training, why the numbers continue to increase and how leadership can be instrumental in preventing sexual assault.

The latest DOD report showed an increase in sexual assaults from the 2016 report. Women between the ages of 17-24 were especially at risk for sexual assault from their peers. A study of the data shows that there is a strong correlation between sexual harassment and sexual assault and gender discrimination and sexual assault.

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Most victims that reported assault, said that they had been sexually harassed or experienced gender discrimination by the perpetrator prior to the assault. Men who were sexually assaulted were more likely to report that the assault served as a way to humiliate them or as a form of hazing and they were also more likely to sustain injuries. Assaults on women were more likely to have a sexual intent and involve alcohol.

The army has many strategies to prevent sexual assault namely a program called SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program). This program aims to prevent assault through education for all army personnel, from junior enlisted all the way to highest level of leadership and also provides support for those who have been victims of assault and harassment. The SHARP training program teaches soldiers to recognize serial offender tactics, how to stop an incident and where to seek help. Seemingly this program should produce the expected outcome; a reduction in sexual assault and yet the evidence clearly shows that this is not the case. The question is why not? This is a complex issue that will require a multi-faceted approach including: military judicial reform, continued education and a change in attitude toward both victims and perpetrators.
This paper proposes that one area of reform is to focus on non-commissioned officers, especially E5-E6, who can play a pivotal role in prevention and increased reporting. These leaders are in direct contact with their soldiers on a daily basis and can be the first to prevent, recognize and encourage reporting of gender discrimination and sexual harassment before it escalates to sexual assault. The military would be wise to not dismiss the role that these leaders play in the lives of their soldiers. These leaders understand what their unit is going through on daily basis and can notice personality changes in the single soldier or interpersonal changes in the group. They are in the unique position to gain the trust of their fellow soldiers and any change in group dynamics can alert them to a potential problem or to one that has already occurred, allowing them to intervene quickly.

Sexual assault is a growing problem that the military cannot afford to ignore. It is one that will require education and reform on all levels. This paper cannot address the full scope of the issue, but it attempts to find one viable solution that will hopefully help reduce the number of sexual assaults. Lower enlisted are at highest risk of sexual harassment and sexual assault, therefore non-commissioned officers can play a key role in prevention and increasing reporting. These leaders are with their soldiers daily and can be alerted to any interpersonal changes within the group allowing them to intervene swiftly. This is a problem that concerns every military member from the lowest ranking to the highest and each individual must take ownership of this crucial issue to see meaningful positive change take place throughout the Army.

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The Rise of Sexual Assault in the Military. (2021, Apr 24). Retrieved from