The US military has a sexual assault problem. But internal documents obtained under Freedom of Information reveal that Hollywood has worked closely with the Pentagon to conceal the extent of the problem from public awareness.

The latest statistics show that the number of military sexual assaults rose 38% overall — and 50% for women — between 2016 and 2018, to over 20,000 a year. Only a third of these were formally reported, with 43% of women who did report sex crimes against them saying they had a negative experience as a result. 90% of these crimes were perpetrated by fellow service members, usually of slightly higher rank than their victims. For junior enlisted women — the most-targeted category of all — 1 in 8 suffered an assault.

Beyond the statistics, I have spoken to several current and former employees of the US armed forces (both male and female) who have all said that the problem is endemic, and the response systems are profoundly inadequate.

The Pentagon’s official position on this is blanket denial. The military, we are told, is doing ‘everything possible’ to combat this ugly subculture within their ranks, ranging from posters to social media marketing campaigns. More recently this has included getting the Army-funded Institute for Creative Technologies to develop video game-like training tools to teach their employees how best to respond to SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention) incidents. Yet these efforts strike many victims as little more than PR to make it appear that the military are doing something about the problem.

But official documents I’ve gathered over the last five years show that the Pentagon’s approach to dealing with sex crimes has focused overwhelmingly on treating it as a PR crisis.