DoD likely misses tens of thousands of hazing incidents, watchdog says
The Defense Department reported as many as 300 hazing incidents per year from 2017 to 2020, but a government watchdog says those numbers represent only a fraction of hazing incidents within the military.
A new report from the Government Accountability Office targets oversights within the Pentagon when it comes to counting and reporting hazing data that could skew the numbers by tens of thousands of cases.
âDoD data suggests that the DoD has limited visibility into the prevalence of hazing within the military and that complaints can dramatically underestimate the number of hazing incidents,â the report’s authors wrote. âPrevalence is an important measure because decision-makers can use it as a starting point to determine whether their efforts to prevent and respond to incidents of hazing are effective. Additionally, it is important to understand the prevalence of hazing, as hazing, which is part of the harm continuum, can lead to more egregious behaviors. As such, an increased prevalence of hazing can lead to an increase in incidents of these most egregious behaviors. “
Previous Pentagon reports estimate that between 183 and 299 incidents of hazing occurred in the military each year from 2017 to 2020. DoD reports on hazing stop after 2020 because the mandate of Congress expired for the studies. The Defense Authorization Act of 2022 renews this statute. The DoD’s 2020 hazing report says the department will continue to collect data without the warrant, however, the 2021 figures have not been made public.
âThe DoD is focused on formal reported complaints,â Brenda Farrell, GAO director of defense capabilities and management, said on the GAO podcast. âThe DoD does not know the extent of the hazing for a number of reasons. First, the DoD did not collect information on informal hazing complaints. Service members can file a formal complaint which is followed up and formal hazing complaints are resolved at the lowest level. They are not tried, they are not investigated and there is a big void. For the DoD, they are not in the numbers. Second, the DoD also failed to collect the required information from National Guard personnel, as the National Guard bureau chief did not establish a policy to do so. “
The GAO has also found problems with hazing training in the military. Pentagon diversity officials told GAO they did not have the resources to proactively review the harassment prevention and response training plans in the departments.
GAO estimated that only about half of military personnel who are supposed to take training receive it at least once a year.
The agency makes a dozen recommendations to the DoD to improve hazing records. The GAO wants the military to update their policies for handling hazing complaints using standard policies. He also suggests conducting proactive reviews of training content and that the National Guard take steps to improve its tracking of hazing.