WASHINGTON — The number of reported sexual assaults across the military shot up by more than 50 percent this year, an increase that defense officials say may suggest that victims are becoming more willing to come forward.
A string of high-profile assaults and arrests triggered outrage in Congress and set off months of debate over how to change the military justice system, while military leaders launched a series of new programs intended to beef up accountability and encourage victims to come forward.
According to early data obtained by the Associated Press, there were more than 5,000 reports of sexual assault filed during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, compared with the 3,374 in 2012.
Asked about the preliminary data, defense officials were cautious in their conclusions. But they said surveys, focus groups and repeated meetings with service members throughout the year suggest that the number of actual incidents — from unwanted sexual contact and harassment to violent assaults — has remained largely steady.
"Given the multiple data points, we assess that this is more reporting," said Col. Alan Metzler, deputy director of the Pentagon's sexual assault prevention and response office. He also noted that more victims are making complaints, rather than simply seeking medical care without filing formal accusations.