The United States military fired or disciplined nearly 500 service members for sexual harassment in a 12-month period, with nearly 13 percent of complaints filed involving repeat offenders.

The Department of Defense released its first formal report on sexual harassment in a briefing on Thursday that came amid criticism from Congress over how the department handles sexual assaults and related crimes.

The report says that 1,366 reports of sexual harassment were filed in the fiscal year that ended on September 30. The cases involved 496 offenders across the services and National Guard. Of the cases reported, 59 percent were substantiated, the report adds.

Stronger mechanisms

Department officials believe harassment in the military is often under-reported.

"We want a climate where everybody reports whenever they’re offended," an official quoted in the Pentagon’s press release said. "We are not leaving any options off the table to prevent sexual harassment."

The department is expected to place a greater emphasis on improving oversight and training, as well as putting stronger mechanisms in place for managing sexual harassment incidents, the Pentagon said.

The reported harassment cases across the military were significantly lower than the number of reported sexual assaults. Earlier this month, the department reported 5,061 cases of sexual assault for the fiscal year, a 50-percent increase over the previous year.

Defence officials said assaults were often preceded by harassment.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies