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Sexual assault in U.S. military declines for first time in eight years

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Sexual assault in the U.S. military declined for the first time since 2016, according to a Pentagon report released Thursday.

The estimated prevalence of sexual assault and sexual harassment declined compared to levels last measured in 2021, marking the first time in eight years that the Department of Defense has seen a decrease in the estimated prevalence of sexual assault.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said it was a good start. He said the findings of the report “demonstrate that the Department is making progress to prevent sexual assault and harassment in the military.”

“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,” he said in a statement. “However, we have far more work to do.”

Among the report’s findings: In fiscal year 2023, 6.8% of active-duty women and 1.3% of active-duty men said they experienced unwanted sexual contact in the year prior to being surveyed. In fiscal year 2021, the rates were 8.4% and 1.5%, respectively. Only the decrease for women was statistically significant.

Sexual harassment rates also declined. In fiscal year 2023, an estimated 24.7% of active-duty women (down from 28.6% in FY21) and an estimated 5.8% of active-duty men (down from 6.5% in FY21) indicated experiencing an incident of sexual harassment, according to the report.

In fiscal year 2023, the Department of Defense received 8,515 reports of sexual assault, a decrease from the 8,924 reports received in FY22.

Austin said more must be done.

“The only acceptable number of instances of sexual assault or sexual harassment in the U.S. military is zero,” he said. “We owe it to all our Service members to get this right.”

The Pentagon’s fiscal year 2025 budget request included $1.2 billion to prevent sexual assault and other harmful behaviors.

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