Nearly 8 eight percent of women in the Marine Corps were sexually assaulted in the past year, according to new data released by the Defense Department and the Rand Corp. on Thursday. Dec. 4.

The figure puts the Marine Corps' rate of past-year sexual assaults for female troops at more than 20 percent higher than the Navy's total, which has the next-highest rate. According to the data, 1.1 percent of male Marines troops also experienced a sexual assault in the last year, the second-highest rate following the Navy at 1.5 percent.

That data follows a new reporting methodology used by Rand that varied in some definitions and categories from Defense Department methods. DoD officials wanted to gain in order to get a more accurate perspective on the specific nature of the assaults service members experienced through the new reporting methods.

Data collected in the traditional way found incidents of "unwanted sexual contact" had decreased among female Marines from 10.1 percent to 8.44 percent from Ffiscal Yyear 2012 to FY 2014. , while u Unwanted sexual contact among male Marines had also gone down in the same period, from 1.1 percent to 0.66 percent. These figures still mean the Marine Corps has more offenses of this nature than its sister services.

Annie Rex and George Zerante, actors with Catharsis Productions, perform sexual assault training called Sex Signals for Marines at the base theater aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., Aug. 15. Marines are encouraged to hold up stop signs when they feel a scene displays sexual assault as well as interact with the performers during the show.
Annie Rex and George Zerante, actors with Catharsis Productions, perform sexual assault training called Sex Signals for Marines at the base theater aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., Aug. 15. Marines are encouraged to hold up stop signs when they feel a scene displays sexual assault as well as interact with the performers during the show.

Actors perform sexual assault training for Marines at the base theater aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif. Marines are encouraged to hold up stop signs when they feel a scene displays sexual assault as well as interact with the performers during the show.

Photo Credit: Lance Cpl. Scott Reel, U.S. Marines

Col. Scott Jensen, branch head for the Corps' sexual assault prevention and response program, told reporters that the service was Marines were working with Rand to analyze the data to normalize for factors that might affect comparison with the other services. The Marine Corps is the youngest of the services, with 64 percent of Marines under the age of 25, according to the most recent demographic data. More than half of Marines are single, and 40 percent are in their first term, in the rank of lance corporal or below.

"[Researchers] believe the Marine Corps, the Navy, the Air Force and the Army will all come down to the same line when you normalize for demographics," Jensen said. But, he added, "we're not making an excuse that our demographics are a reason to have higher prevalence."

In recent years, the Marine Corps has hailed significant annual jumps in the number of sexual assault reports as evidence that a slew of new policies designed to encourage reporting have been successful. In Ffiscal Yyear 2013, the number of reports jumped 93 percent from 453 to 876. That figure dropped slightly in FY 2014, with 855 reports received.

"For a crime often characterized by trauma, shame, and lack of acknowledgement, these and other developments demonstrate the progress that this institution has made in the last three years," Marine officials wrote in a 74-page progress report to President Obama that was reviewed by Marine Corps Times.

Among new prevention policies and efforts detailed in the report was the Corps' new Victims Legal Counsel Office, which became fully operational in January to provide legal services and assistance to troops and dependents who self-identified as victims. The office had provided legal services to 602 individuals since it was created a year ago, according to the report said, with more than half of those served serving 336 victims of sexual assault. The office also assisted 115 victims of domestic violence and 32 victims of other assaults.

Spending on sexual assault training for Marine Corps legal staff more than doubled in the past year from about $337,000 to $698,000, according to the report said. Overall, the Corps spent more than $16 million on sexual assault prevention initiatives and legal training in the last two years.

One piece of data seems to indicate a measure of success in sexual assault prevention training, which has grown in the last two years to include interactive performances, role-playing exercises, and a new program, Step Up, which that targets the most junior enlisted ranks.

In Corps-wide command climate surveys, 88 percent of Marines who observed a situation in the last year they believed was a sexual assault, or could have led to one, self-reported taking action to intervene in a high-risk situation where sexual assault seemed likely, according to the report. The se actions included could include direct intervention to confront people involved in the situation, distraction to allow individuals to disengage, or reports to an authority figure about the perceived concern.

Meanwhile, Jensen said officials are looking forward to service-specific data regarding victims' fears of retaliation from their peers or their chain of command. Early data from Rand indicated that 60 percent of victims had reported some level of social retaliation and 40 percent indicated some level of professional retaliation, he said. The Marine Corps, he said, is working to better train small-unit leaders how confront retaliation within units and to publicize the fact that it violates a service order.

"We have identified that from our own trend analysis prior to the reports and prior to the Rand report as a concern," Jensen said. "...Our indications are that Marines trust their commanders. As we start looking at the issues and asking questions of survivors is becomes apparent that perhaps that trust may be lacking in some of the skills and knowledge that they need."