Jan. 31 (UPI) -- The number of cadets at three military service academies who experienced unwanted sexual contact rose last academic year by nearly 50 percent from the 2015-2016 year, the Pentagon estimated in a report revealed Thursday.
The Pentagon report estimated 747 cadets experienced unwanted sexual contact in the 2017-2018 academic year, compared to 507 in the 2015-2016 school year, which was the last academic year reported.
A 2018 survey estimated that among all female students at three U.S. service academies, 15.8 percent experienced unwanted sexual contact in the past year, up from 12 percent in 2016. Among male students, 2.4 percent experience unwanted sexual contact, compared to 1.7 percent in 2016.
The data come from the Defense Department's annual report on sexual violence and harassment at three military academies -- the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy -- that have a combined student population of 12,000.
The report noted unwanted sexual contact increased for women at the U.S. Military Academy and U.S. Air Force Academy, with no statistical changes at the U.S. Naval Academy. Unwanted sexual contact estimates for men only increased at the U.S. Military Academy.
Survey estimates also showed 50 percent of women reported harassment, compared to 48 percent in the previous report. Sixteen percent of men reported the same, compared to 12 percent in 2016.
While estimates on the prevalence of sexual assault increased and harassment were also up, the three academies fielded about the same number of sexual assault reports as they did in the previous year.
A June 2017 Defense Department memorandum required military academies to develop plans to address sexual harassment and sexual assault with four key focus areas. Those areas included promotion of responsible alcohol choices, reinvigorating prevention of sexual assault, enhancing a culture of respect and improvement of reporting of sexual assault and harassment.
The report said the 2017-2018 survey report results "do not fully reflect the changes in programming," since it was conducted before the implementation of plans scheduled for the summer of 2018.
Still, the academies are "using the data to target their efforts," a Defense Department statement said.
The department is applying a variety of resources including technical expertise, new reporting avenues and on-site assistance, according to the statement.
"It is imperative that we fortify our efforts to promote and sustain safe and respectful climates," said Rear Admiral Ann Burkhardt, director of the department's sexual assault prevention and response office. "We must strive to keep the trust of the parents who send their sons and daughters to serve that they will be treated with dignity and respect. Unwanted sexual contact is one of the most destructive factors in building a mission-focused military, so we all must take a more active role in combating this horrendous crime."