The Pentagon estimates that the number of sexual assaults in the military last year were the lowest since the military began surveying service members about a decade ago.
The numbers, released Monday in a Defense Department report, show sexual assault estimates down from about 20,300 sexual assaults in 2014 to about 14,900 in 2016.
However, officials cautioned the battle to end sexual assault in the military is “far from over.”
“We do not confuse progress with success,” Elise Van Winkle, the acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness, said. “There is no acceptable number of sexual assaults.”
While sexual assaults decreased, officials say reports of sexual assaults in the military increased slightly last year, with the number of victims reporting their assaults rising from about 1 in 4 to about 1 in 3.
“We see this as encouraging signs that many of our efforts are working as intended,” said Rear Adm. Ann M. Burkhardt, the director for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.
More than half the victims who reported a sexual assault said they experienced negative reactions or retaliation for their complaints, said Nathan Galbreath, the deputy director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.
Officials pointed to the need for a strong military justice system to build credibility and empower victims. In about two-thirds of the reported cases, commanders had sufficient evidence to take disciplinary action.
Sexual assault is highly underreported, so the Pentagon has used anonymous surveys to track the crimes. Officials said they surveyed more than 150,000 members of the military for the 2016 report.
The report comes weeks after a massive photo scandal highlighted sexual harassment in the military. A private Facebook group called “Marines United,” which included tens of thousands of Marines and retired Marines, posted links to explicit images of military women, often with sexist, derogatory comments. Some even referenced rape and molestation.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service has launched an investigation into the page, but Galbreath said the case likely would not influence the data released Monday because “a lot of that came to light after a lot of our data was collected.”