The number of reported sexual assaults in the military rose by more than 50% this year, but defense officials say that figure is actually a sign of progress. Heightened attention to the problem is causing more people to come forward as they gain confidence in the system, they say. More than 5,000 reports of sexual assault were filed during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, compared to the 3,374 in 2012, according to early data obtained by the AP. The increase in reports across the services ranges from a low of about 45% for the Air Force to a high of 86% for the Marines, the smallest service. The Navy had an increase of 46% and the Army, by far the largest military service, had a 50% jump.
While cautious in their conclusions, officials said surveys, focus groups, and repeated meetings with service members throughout the year suggest that the number of actual incidents—from unwanted sexual contact and harassment to violent assaults—remained largely steady. "More likely, we have people who understand what sexual assault is," said Jill Loftus, director of the Navy's sexual assault program, which also includes the Marine Corps. And, she said, officials are hearing that more people are confident that their reports will be taken seriously. (Read more sexual assault stories.)