A 2018 annual defense report on sexual assault across the military showed an alarming 20 percent increase in sexual assault reports in the Marine Corps.

The report released Thursday highlighted that in-service sexual assault reports across the Corps increased from 694 reports in fiscal year 2017 to 835 in fiscal 2018.

The report also noted that the Marine Corps had the highest reporting rate of sexual assault compared to the other services.

And sexual assault prevalence across the Corps for women hit 10.7 percent in 2018, an increase from 7 percent in 2016, the report detailed.

Overall, across the U.S. military about 20,500 service members said they experienced a sexual assault in fiscal year 2018, up from 14,900 in fiscal year 2016.

“The results are disturbing and a clear indicator the Marine Corps must reexamine its sexual assault prevention efforts,” the Corps said in a command release.

Top senior officials across the Corps have been briefed on the findings of the annual DoD report, the release stated.

"We cannot truly be loyal to our Nation without first being loyal to each other,” the Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller, said in the release. “All Marines must be involved in preventing and addressing sexual assault and harassment. There is no room in the Marine Corps for either of these behaviors."

While sexual assault is a highly underreported crime, the Corps said it believes the increase in reporting indicates that Marines “feel more empowered” and have “more faith” in leadership to come forward, according to the release.

The DoD report noted that in 2006 about 1 out of 14 service members reported to a defense authority figure following a sexual assault incident, that number climbed to 1 out of 3 service members by 2018 — meaning more troops are reporting sexual assault.

The highest at-risk individuals, according to the Marine Corps, are female Marines 24 and younger and between the ranks of private to corporal, their assailants are often peers within a rank or two.

The Corps said in a press release that it plans to take a number of actions to address the increase in sexual assault reports.

Among those include engaging and educating junior Marines about sexual assault at training schools, and through the chain of command, and further training Marine leaders and noncommissioned officers about sexual assault, harassment and gender discrimination.

The Corps said in the release that it is also already implementing a number of programs and initiatives to address sexual assault and harassment across the Corps.

Those initiatives include updating the Marine order covering sexual assault prevention and response, or SAPR; creating rank specific leadership training through various phases of a Marine’s career; and overhauling SAPR victims advocate training to focus on victim support skills.

“Our Marines have a fundamental right to live and work in an environment free from sexual assault and harassment,” the Corps said in the release.

“The Marine Corps is committed to purging these criminal behaviors from our ranks, taking care of victims, and holding offenders accountable,” the release reads.

Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.

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