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Navy sailors on ships are the most likely to be sexually assaulted in the military, new report finds

On one ship in South Carolina, the study estimates, one in six female sailors were assaulted.

by Alexa Liautaud
Sep 21 2018, 7:00pm

Service members assigned to Navy ships face a far higher risk of being sexual assaulted than other service members assigned to other military installations, a new report commissioned by the Pentagon has found.

The report, conducted by RAND Corporation and released Friday, is one of the first of its kind in ranking military installations by the likelihood of sexual assault but doesn’t explicitly say which branch of the military is the most at risk overall. The study relied on responses from more than 170,000 active-duty service members across military bases in the United States and abroad. As the report notes, the data comes from 2014, and, among other caveats, there’s no guarantee that the trends found from back then forecast the reality four years on.

Navy women were at the highest risk of being sexually assaulted at Naval Support Activity Charleston in South Carolina. The report estimates that in 2014, 17 percent of female sailors assigned to NSA Charleston were sexually assaulted, according to the study. That’s more than one in six, the authors wrote.

The report ranks highest-risk installations and lowest-risk installations for each branch. In the Navy, there’s a clear trend that the ships are the majority of the highest-risk installations.

“Of the 15 highest-risk installations for Navy women, 13 are ships or clusters of ships, including eight of the 10 aircraft carriers,” the report stated. “Our model estimates that more than 10 percent of all women experienced a sexual assault at each of these high-risk installations over a one-year period, and more than 15 percent of all women were assaulted at two of them.”

The findings are similar for Navy men. As the report notes, “All but one of Navy men’s highest-risk installations are ships or clusters of ships, including five aircraft carriers.”

To protect service members’ anonymity, ships or installations with fewer than 50 respondents of the same sex were not included. The Pentagon also has more recent sexual assault data than from 2014, but RAND's project started before that data was available and was conducted using survey data from RAND’s military workplace study, according to one of the report’s authors, senior behavioral scientist Terry Schell.

Citing the need to further understand RAND’s methodology, the Pentagon initially delayed the release of the report, which it requested in 2016. Spurred by several high-profile scandals, the Department of Defense has renewed its focus on combating sexual misconduct and finding ways for service members to report without retaliation.

“Sexual assault is a horrible crime that ultimately reduces force readiness and lethality,” Air Force Maj. Carla Gleason, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told VICE News in an email. “These and other efforts will ultimately provide our military leaders with tools and information to help prevent sexual misconduct at an installation level.”

Retired Navy Capt. Lory Manning, director of government relations at SWAN, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting sexual assault and sexual harassment of women in the military, urged for action following the report.

"The Navy needs to acknowledge that ships require extra effort to prevent sexual assault and to deal with its aftermath,” Manning said in a statement. “Senior Navy leaders should use this data when they make command selection decisions moving forward. Navy commanders who commanded highly problematic ships should not be promoted or given even greater responsibilities."