Sexual assault reports in the military surged overall by 10 percent in 2017, with the biggest increase, of 14.7 percent, coming from the Marine Corps, the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office reported Monday.

The total number of sex offenses reported was 6,769, which showed that “more service members than ever before are reporting sexual assaults” as the Pentagon focuses on ridding the ranks of offenders, said Rear Adm. Ann Burkhardt, deputy director of SAPRO.

The 6,769 reports included 4,193 involving female service members and 1,084 involving male service members, while others involved civilian personnel or victims who were not in the military, SAPRO said.

The number of women reporting assaults increased by 13 percent year over year, while the number of men reporting remained about the same compared with 2016, SAPRO said.

According to SAPRO’s annual report on sexual assaults, the Army received a total of 2,706 reports of sexual assault in 2017, an increase of 8.4 percent over 2016; the Navy received 1,585 reports, up 9.3 percent, and the Air Force received 1,480, up 9.2 percent.

The Marine Corps had a total of 998 reports of sexual assault in 2016, an increase of 14.7 percent.

Defense officials declined to speculate on whether the surge in reports for the Corps may have been influenced by widespread publicity from the so-called “Marines United” scandal last year in which male Marines were accused of sharing nude photos of female troops through a private Facebook group.

To date, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service has identified at least 78 active-duty and Reserve Marines as persons of interest in activities related to the Marines United scandal.

At the same time that reporting of sexual assaults was increasing, the number of cases going to court-martial decreased.

The SAPRO report said 54 percent of cases resulted in criminal charges being referred to court-martial last year, down from 71 percent in fiscal 2013.

Overall, the Pentagon saw the increase in reporting “as an indicator that service members continue to gain confidence in the department’s sexual assault response system,” Robert Wilkie, undersecretary for personnel and readiness, said in a foreword to the report.

The message from Wilkie, who has been detached from the Pentagon to serve as acting secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs, echoed that of SAPRO officials who maintain that sexual assault is a widely underreported offense in the military and in civilian life, adding that an increase in reporting is a sign of progress.

“While the progress we have seen provides some comfort, we neither take it for granted nor are we under any illusions that our work is done,” said Elizabeth Van Winkle, executive director of the Pentagon’s Office of Force Resiliency. “In fact, we see this progress as cautionary and recognize that one of the greatest threats to progress is complacency.”

The SAPRO report said 4,779 cases — some of them dating back several years — were completed last year. Of those cases, 3,567 involved a service member alleged to have been involved in an assault, and 2,218 of those accusations resulted in commanders taking some form of disciplinary action.

— Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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