WASHINGTON -- The past-year prevalence of sexual assault in the military reached a new low in fiscal year 2016, and reporting of such crimes is on the upswing from previous years, Defense Department officials said Monday.

The Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military for fiscal year 2016 shows that 4.3 percent of women and 0.6 percent of men said they experienced a sexual assault in the year prior to the force-wide survey. Those numbers are down compared to the fiscal year 2014 figures of 4.9 percent of women and 0.9 percent of men, officials said.

The report shows that, in addition to the drop in the estimated total number of incidents via the survey, the portion of those incidents that is reported to DOD authorities has risen. As many as one in three service members reported the incidents in fiscal 2016, compared to one in 14 people 10 years ago, they added.

The fiscal 2016 report shows about 14,900 service members indicated they experienced a sexual assault last year, which is 5,400 fewer than the 20,300 victims estimated in 2014.

"We're encouraged that there was less of this horrible crime in 2016. However, there are still too many people experiencing a sexual assault," said Navy Rear Adm. Ann Burkhardt, the director of DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. "We will continue to provide first-class support to those who have been victimized and further evolve our prevention efforts to stop the crime before it occurs."

RESOUNDING MESSAGE

"Our people have heard the message from their senior leadership that this crime has no place in our military," SAPRO Deputy Director Nate Galbreath said of the uptick in victim reporting. "We believed 10 years ago that, if we built services that gave people confidence, they would be supported, [and] more people would report."

And more men are reporting sexual assault crimes because of strides DOD has made through awareness, he noted.

"Leadership at all levels of the department have been making an effort to let men know we want to hear from them," Galbreath said. "In the military, sexual assault is something experienced equally by men and women -- there are just as many men as women who experience sexual assault. … Real warriors ask for help when they need it."

While force-wide surveys in DOD are voluntary, more than 735,000 active-duty service members were invited to take the fiscal 2016 survey, and 24 percent of those invited replied, Galbreath noted.

"That kind of response gives us a lot of precision and confidence in our results," he said. "Our surveys are designed so that the results represent the entire force. This is how we know that about 14,900 active duty men and women experienced a sexual assault in 2016 -- down from some 20,300 in 2014, and way down from about 34,000 in 2006 when we first started."

DOD SUPPORTS VICTIMS

Service members who made a sexual assault report and participated in the military justice system said in the Military Investigation and Justice Experience Survey that they received solid support, the deputy director said.

"We are very lucky to hear from a small, but important, group of military members who take our [survey]," he added. "They've told us that they get great support from our special victims' counsel -- their lawyers -- as well as from their victim advocates and sexual assault response coordinators."

"Three-quarters of these service members who've been through the justice process would recommend that other service members make a report," he continued. "If anyone is wondering whether they should come forward, I hope they take this advice."

Prevention is the key to further reducing the occurrence of sexual assault and increase reporting, Galbreath said.

"If we expect prevalence rates of sexual assault to decrease in the future, we will need to get after the prevention of co-occurring misconduct like sexual harassment, hazing and alcohol misuse," he said. "We have plans in the works to collaborate with our counterpart organizations across the DOD to press forward together."

DOD's Safe Helpline is anonymous and offers support for sexual assault survivors in the military at safehelpline.org or by phone at 877-995-5247.

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)