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WASHINGTON — New details in a Pentagon report show that military academy students report just a fraction of the sexual assaults they say occurred in the past school year, signaling a continued reluctance by victims to seek criminal investigations.
As reported earlier this week, the report shows that reported sexual assaults at the nation's three military academies jumped by 23 percent overall this year. But officials say that at least some of the increase is the result of ongoing efforts to encourage military members and students to report unwelcome sexual contact.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a memo released Friday that he's concerned there hasn't been greater progress in preventing sexual assault and harassment at the academies. He has asked officials to beef up prevention programs.
According to an anonymous survey of academy students, more than 50 percent of women and 10 percent of men said they experienced sexual harassment during the last school year. At the same time, a bit more than 12 percent of women and 2 percent of men enrolled in the three military academies said they experienced "unwanted sexual contact."
Those percentages are largely the same as previous years, but they indicate that far more students experience either sexual harassment or assault than the 80 who reported it in the past year. There were 65 reported sexual assaults in the 2010-2011 academic year, and 41 the previous year.
Of the 80 reported assaults, 42 victims provided information to law enforcement or their commands for an investigation, while 38 accessed medical care and other services but declined to seek an investigation.
According to Maj. Gen. Gary Patton, director of the sexual assault prevention and response office, sexual assault "continues to be a persistent problem" at the academies. But he noted that based on the survey, as much as 84 percent of the crimes go unreported.
That number is a concern, he said, and noted that sexual assaults are a problem in society more broadly. Still, he said, the military must be held to a higher standard.
Of the cases investigated this year, just eight people have been sent to court martial. Five cases have been completed and four were convicted of at least one charge. Three cases are continuing. In some cases the person being investigated was not a member of the military and thus did not fall under the jurisdiction of the department.
The documents also show that cadets and midshipmen are three times as likely to be victims of assault as active-duty troops.
Navy officials expressed concerns that the data suggests there is the perception among some Naval Academy students that a culture persists that discourages the reporting of these crimes.
"I am disappointed that we have apparently not instilled in each and every midshipman the sense that being loyal to one another means first being loyal to the service and to the uniform," said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.
Mabus said he has asked Navy leaders to take steps to "deglamorize the use of alcohol" and foster a command climate that is more conducive to the reporting of sex crimes.
Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for military personnel who have been sexually assaulted, said the report shows a continuing need for changes in the command structure and the culture of the military.
"Victims are afraid to come forward because of the retaliation they face, including victim-blaming, isolation and bad performance reviews, to being kicked out with errant medical discharge like personality disorders," said the group's president, Nancy Parrish. "It's a shameful blight on our nation."
Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, co-chairman of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, said that while the statistics are troubling, "the increased rate of reporting is in response to efforts combating this issue, both by leadership at the Defense Department, and by Congress." Those efforts, he said, will continue.