The number of sexual assaults reported at the Naval Academy increased slightly last year while reports fell at the other service academies, according to an assessment to be released by the Pentagon on Friday.
Overall reports at the three academies fell from 80 during the 2011-2012 academic year to 70 in 2012-2013, according to the Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies obtained by The Baltimore Sun.
That drop runs counter to the recent militarywide trend of increased reporting — a trend that officials have said indicates a growing trust in the military justice system.
Military officials and advocates for victims alike believe the great majority of assaults remain unreported. The Pentagon has estimated that hundreds of academy cadets and midshipmen experience unwanted sexual contact each year.
Amid a drumbeat of such statistics, military leaders are facing growing pressure from Congress and the White House to eliminate rape from the ranks. Across the armed forces, officials estimate that 26,000 service members were subjected to unwanted sexual contact in 2012, the last year for which data has been released.
"We now have an overwhelming amount of data showing there's a problem," said Baltimore attorney Susan Burke, who represents dozens of alleged sexual assault victims in actions against the Defense Department. "Why aren't we focusing on the solution?"
Lawmakers last month approved several changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice intended to strengthen prosecutions, toughen sanctions and protect victims. President Barack Obama ordered the secretary of defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff to review their efforts against sexual assault and report their progress back to him at the end of this year.
Burke and others want to take the authority to send alleged perpetrators to court-martial away from commanders and give it to trained prosecutors. Military leaders and their allies in Congress oppose that move, which they say would undermine a commander's authority over his or her troops.
In the public discussion of sexual assault in the military, the service academies — the nation's elite training grounds for future officers — have attracted special attention.
In the report to be released Friday, the Defense Department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office concludes that leaders, faculty and staff at Annapolis, Colorado Springs, Colo., and West Point, N.Y., are committed to eliminating sexual assault from their academies, and the "vast majority" of students "generally support the values of mutual respect and dignity."
"However," the report's authors continue, "the extent to which cadets and midshipmen feel free to act on these values varies. … At each of the three academies, there is evidence that some cadets and midshipmen disregarded academy policies and practices in these areas."
The authors cite as an example the midshipmen who rented an off-campus house in Annapolis, in violation of academy rules, and hosted parties at which alcohol was served to minors.
Known as the "Black Pineapple," the house on Witmer Court is where members of the Navy football team are alleged to have sexually assaulted a fellow midshipman in April 2012.
Two midshipmen now face courts-martial in that alleged incident. Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Michael H. Miller decided against pursuing charges against a third.
The report's authors noted problems among sports teams at the other academies. At the Military Academy, they wrote, emails circulated by the men's rugby team "illustrated a culture of disrespect towards women."
At the Air Force Academy, a "years-old slide presentation that disparages academy women" continued to be circulated by members of at least two sports teams.
At the Naval Academy, reports of sexual assault rose from 13 in 2011-2012 — the year the alleged incident at the Black Pineapple was reported — to 15 in 2012-2013.
The report's authors write that the Naval Academy "demonstrated a commitment to increasing awareness of sexual assaults and harassment at the academy, developing and conducting high quality training, and improving the victim experience."
They encouraged officials to continue to incorporate "sexual assault prevention learning objectives" in academic curricula and to develop measures to judge effectiveness and prevention.
A spokesman for the Naval Academy said he could not comment on the report until its official release.
At the Air Force Academy, reports of sexual assault fell from 52 in 2011-2012 to 45 in 2012-2013. At the Military Academy, they fell from 15 to 10 during the same period.
Eleven of the reports among the three academies involved incidents alleged to have occurred before the victim entered their service. It was not clear how these reports were divided among the academies.
Advocates for victims say the relatively low rate of reporting, compared to the estimated number of incidents, shows a lack of faith in the military justice system.
"The victims do not have the confidence that the system will work for them," said Rep. Jackie Speier, the leading House critic of the military rules. Of the 29 cases in which an alleged victim agreed to cooperate with investigators, she said, "only one has gone to court-martial. That's 3 percent."
Speier, a California Democrat, has championed legislation to take the prosecution of sexual assault out of the chain of command. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, has filed similar legislation in the Senate.
Military officials say they encourage all victims to report assaults, in order to get treatment and to hold perpetrators accountable.
Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.
Sexual assault at the service academies
Reports by academic year
Air Force AcademyMilitary AcademyNaval AcademyTotal
Source: Department of Defense's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response OfficeCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun