U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says sexual assaults are a threat to women and men in uniform and the Pentagon must do more to fight a culture that discourages victims from reporting assaults.
Hagel said Thursday he is ordering a greater focus on prevention programs, including plans to review alcohol sales and policies.
Reports of sexual assaults by members of the military rose 50 percent after the Pentagon began a vigorous campaign to get more victims to come forward, according to its annual report on sexual assaults.
Sexual assault has been a top issue for the military, Congress and the Obama administration during the past year, triggering congressional hearings and persistent questions about how effectively the military is preventing and prosecuting assaults and how well it treats victims.
While the number of reported assaults shot up sharply in 2013, defense officials said that based on survey data and other information, they believe the increase was largely due to victims feeling more comfortable coming forward.
During the past two years, the military has increased awareness of the problem and treatment programs to instill more confidence in the system and get victims to come forward. Phone numbers and contact information for sexual assault prevention officers are placed across military bases, including inside the doors of bathroom stalls. Top military officers have traveled to bases around the world speaking out on the issue.
The Pentagon report released Thursday says 5,061 reports of sexual abuse were filed in the year ended September 30, compared with 3,374 in 2012 - a 50 percent gain. About 10 percent of the 2013 reports involved incidents that occurred before the victim got into the military, up from just 4 percent in 2012.
Under the military's definition, a sexual assault can be anything from unwanted sexual contact, such as inappropriate touching or grabbing, to sodomy and rape.