The US military has reported a major spike in sexual assaults despite years of efforts to address the problem.
Figures show 20,500 instances of unwanted sexual contact occurred in 2018, up from 14,900 in 2016 which is the last time a survey was conducted.
Alcohol was involved in one third of cases, and female recruits ages 17 to 24 are at the highest risk of attack.
On Thursday, Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan directed the military to “criminalise” sexual harassment.
What does the report show?
The report released on Thursday surveyed the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, and estimated a total of 20,500 cases in 2018.
The total figure is based reports of attacks as well as an extrapolation of survey data which was gathered through a poll of over 100,000 troops. Researchers say the survey has a 95% level of confidence.
Incidents of unwanted sexual contact – which ranges from groping to rape – rose by around 38% between 2016 and 2018.
Only one out of three cases were reported to authorities, the report found.
In 2006, only one in 14 victims reported sexual assault crimes, the Pentagon said.
Service members who reported sexual assault v estimated totals
In more than 85% of cases, victims knew their attacker. The majority of cases involved young women whose attacker was often a superior officer.
The report should be “a trip wire”, said Nate Galbreath, Deputy Director of the Department’ of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.
“This is what tells us that there’s something going on that we need to hone in on,” he told ABC News.
“We’ve got a higher prevalence for women 17 to 24. We’re going to be focusing very, very tightly on that.”
What is the reaction?
Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s personnel panel, told the USA Today newspaper that the military “must accept that current programmes are simply not working”.
“Congress must lead the way in forcing the department to take more aggressive approaches to fighting this scourge,” she said, calling for intervention from US lawmakers.
On Thursday, Mr Shanahan revealed some of the recommendations made by the Sexual Assault Accountability and Investigation Task Force, which was created last month after the urging of Senator Martha McSally.
Senator McSally, who was the first female US fighter pilot to fly in combat, revealed in March that she had been raped by a superior officer while serving in the Air Force.
In response to the report, Mr Shanahan directed the US Department of Defence “criminalise” sexual harassment “to combat this scourge”.
It is unclear if he would need congressional approval to make changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice – the US military’s legal code, to make the offence a “stand-alone crime”.
In a memo on Thursday announcing the change, Mr Shanahan also announced plans to train commanders in a new programme to uncover serial sex offenders.
“To put it bluntly, we are not performing to the standards and expectations we have for ourselves or for each other,” Mr Shanahan said.
“This is unacceptable. We cannot shrink from facing the challenge head on.”