But any hypothesis is useless without testing. It’s hard to prove causation when things might be merely correlated. It’s even harder to prove a negative. But one way we might be able to hypothesis-test is to interpret the current numbers in the context of the next iteration of the “Service Academy Gender Relations Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault Survey” (SAGR). One thing the SAGR might be able to show is whether or not (and perhaps even why or why not) victims are reporting sexual assaults. If West Point’s currently-reported incidents of higher reporting correlate with few unreported incidents next year than in years past, I would argue they are on the right track. Simply put, with the SAGR results, we could make a much-better estimation of what West Point’s high numbers, as well as Air Force and Navy’s much lower numbers, actually mean. I know that’s not as headline-grabbing, but it’s probably a more-responsible way of dealing with the data.
Without additional information it’s hard to tell if Air Force and Navy should be congratulated and Army condemned, or vice versa. It’s also possible that every program is doing a good job, or none of them. But as a parent, a veteran, and a taxpayer, I’m actually more concerned about the low numbers at Air Force and Navy than I am about the high numbers at Army. Low reporting numbers might indicate low incidents of assaults, or they may indicate low confidence in the system. If it is the latter, that is particularly concerning; individuals who assault men and women and don’t get reported, often go on to assault other men and women. Consistently low incidents of reporting may indicate a troubling trend: things are getting worse, not better. Conversely, and perhaps paradoxically, higher incidences of reporting might indicate increased trust, which over time may result in decreased incidents of sexual harassment and assault.
So, while the sensational headlines about this year’s report on sexual assaults are concerning, especially the numbers at West Point, it’s worth exploring the data further before drawing firm conclusions. West Point—and the rest of the Academies—might be moving in the right direction after all.