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—Jennifer Hlad

The number of sexual assaults of Active Duty troops decreased in Fiscal 2016, while the percentage of troops who reported those sexual assaults increased, according to a report released late Monday by the Pentagon. However, sexual assault reporting in the Air Force remained “unchanged,” the report states.

Because sexual assault is a historically underreported crime, Pentagon officials believe the increased reporting throughout the Department of Defense indicates that victims “are continuing to gain confidence in their leaders” and others to help them get the care they need and punish attackers, according to a letter in the report to Congress signed by A.M. Kurta, who is performing the duties of undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

The Air Force received 1,355 reports of sexual assault in Fiscal 2016, compared to 1,312 in Fiscal 2015 and 1,350 in Fiscal 2014, according to the Air Force portion of the report. About 30 percent of those reports remained restricted at the end of the year, compared to 29 percent in Fiscal 2015 and 30 percent in Fiscal 2014.

Restricted reports allow a victim to receive treatment and counseling without being identified to his or her command; unrestricted reports allow law enforcement to pursue a criminal investigation against the accused attacker.

Acting Secretary of the Air Force Lisa Disbrow said the service must “continue to drive a culture of prevention while ensuring victims readily come forward and report sexual assault.”

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said it is all about trust.

“The crime of sexual assault shatters trust and has a direct and negative impact on our capabilities as a war-fighting force,” he said.

DOD-wide, 6,172 sexual assaults involving a member of the military were reported in Fiscal 2016—a 1.5 percent increase from 2015, the document states. Of those reports, 5,350 involved a service member victim, and 556 of those service members were reporting incidents that happened before they joined the military. A total of 4,591 were unrestricted reports.

Also in Fiscal 2015, a survey of Active Duty troops found that 4.3 percent of women and 0.6 percent of men said they were sexually assaulted in the previous year. Based on that anonymous survey, the DOD believes about 14,900 troops experienced some kind of sexual assault in 2016, down from an estimated 20,300 in Fiscal 2014, and an estimated 26,000 in Fiscal 2012.

Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a written statement that they are encouraged by the results of the Pentagon report.

“The report indicates that progress is being made,” with sexual assault going down and reporting increasing, they said. “While these trends point toward a positive improvement in combating instances of sexual assault in the armed forces, there is still much work to be done.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said that while the DOD is reporting progress, “the truth is that the scourge of sexual assault in the military remains status quo.”

Gillibrand said the report shows “less, not more, accountability in the military justice system,” adding that it is “clear that after years of congressional reforms, men and women in uniform still do not have confidence in the military justice system.”