WASHINGTON, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- The United States' top three military academies reported record high numbers of sexual assaults in 2012, the Department of Defense said.
A Defense Department report issued Friday found 80 cases of sexual assault were reported at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.; the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.; and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs -- up 23 percent from last year, The Washington Post reported.
More than 60 percent of the cases were reported at the Air Force Academy, which had a 33 percent increase of reported sexual assaults this year from last year.
Military officials said the increase in reported cases may reflect a changing culture that makes victims increasingly willing to report the crimes.
Maj. Gen. Gary Patton called the increased reports a "positive trend."
"It means there is a victim that is receiving some sort of care," he said.
Defense officials and activists have expressed concern and have called for more aggressive steps to reverse the trend.
"This report shines a light on the severity and scope of the crisis," Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group, said in a statement Friday. "It validates our worst fears and what we know to be true because of the number of frantic calls and emails we receive for active duty personnel who continue to be retaliated against for reporting their rape."
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wrote to the chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force: "I am concerned that we have not achieved greater progress in preventing sexual assault and sexual harassment among academy cadets and midshipmen. These crimes and abhorrent behavior are incompatible with the core values we require of our Armed Forces' future officers."