The Pentagon released a survey Thursday showing an eight percent increase in reported sexual assaults in the ranks while claiming overall progress in the military's efforts to curb abuses.
Despite the increase in reported assaults, the survey showed a decrease by about 27% in the number of service members who said they were victims of unwanted sexual contacts – from 26,000 in 2012 to about 19,000 las year.
However, the report also included a troubling statistic showing that 62 percent of female service members who claimed they experienced unwanted sexual contact also said that they were targets of workplace retaliation from peers.
The report overseen by DoD's Sexual Assault Prevention And Response Office (SAPRO) showed "measurable progress," outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said, but "we ultimately want a military with no more victims. We're not there yet but we'll get there."
"We believe that our efforts to prevent sexual assault are beginning to have an impact," Hagel said. "There's much more to be done," particularly in the area of "removing the stigma" from male service members who report incidents of sexual harassment and assault against them.
Of the approximately 19,000 incidents of unwanted sexual contact, 10,500 came from men, the report showed.
Hagel said he was also concerned that "there may be an increased use of social media for sexual harassment."
The response to the report was mixed in Congress, where Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, is pressing a bill that would take the prosecution of sexual assault cases out of the chain of command and put in the hands of independent military lawyers.
Gillibrand charged that the data in the report showed that military leaders "have failed in their mission" to curb sexual assaults.
"It should be a screaming red flag to everyone when 62 percent of those who say they reported a crime were retaliated against," Gillibrand said in a statement.
"And let me be clear, an estimate of 20,000 cases of sexual assault and unwanted sexual contact a year in our military, or 55 cases a day, is appalling," Gillibrand said.
Others in Congress were generally more positive. In a statement before the report's official release, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that "reporting of assaults being up and incidents of assault being down are exactly the combination we're looking for."
Reps. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, and Niki Tsongas, D-Massachusetts, who co-chair the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, said in a joint statement: "While these numbers continue to be concerning, the rise in reporting is a possible signal that legislative and military changes from recent years are having an encouraging impact."
"But none of these findings obviate the simple fact that these heinous crimes continue to occur at an alarming rate, and that a majority of those who choose to report face retaliation," Turner and Tsongas said.
The number of cases of sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact in the military fell to an estimated 19,000 in 2014 from the estimated 26,000 two years ago, according to the survey.
At the same time, sexual assaults actually reported to military authorities rose eight percent to 5,983 during the 2014 fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, compared to 5,518 the previous year, the report said.
"White the results and initiatives described in this report demonstrates signs of progress in the fight against sexual assault in our military, I recognize there is more work to do," Hagel said in a cover letter to the report, which was requested by President Obama.
The Pentagon said that the 118-page report cost $9.2 million, including $7.7 million in expenses and $1.5 million for DoD labor.
The report compiled by DoD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) included a military workplace study analysis by the Rand Corp.
"The trend data suggest that fewer active-duty service women are experiencing unwanted sexual contacts and sexual harassment than was the case two yeares ago, but significant improvements over 2010 levels have not yet occurred," the Rand study said.
The data experiences of women with retaliation after filing a report of sexual assault or harassment with a military authority were unchanged from 2012 to 2014, Rand said.
About 62 percent of women who filed a report said they experienced "professional retaliation, social retaliation, adverse administrative actions or punishment for violations associated with the sexual assault," the Rand study said.
In what was possibly his last significant act as Pentagon chief, Hagel said he was implementing several new initiatives to combat sexual assault.
He said that the Pentagon will move to adapt sexual assault prevention measures to localities to take into account community risk factors, adopt new training for supervisors and take corrective action immediately on all reports of retaliation.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com