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USAFA: Sex assault victims seeking help sooner

Dec. 2, 2012 - 11:25AM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 2, 2012 - 11:25AM  |  
Teresa Beasley is the sexual assault response coordinator at the Air Force.
Teresa Beasley is the sexual assault response coordinator at the Air Force. (Air Force)
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Air Force Academy cadets who are sexually assaulted now wait an average of four months before they make a report half of what it was five years ago.

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Air Force Academy cadets who are sexually assaulted now wait an average of four months before they make a report half of what it was five years ago.

"A lot of times, when it first happens to them, they think, ‘I can deal with this.' They can, for a while. Then it starts catching up and they start struggling," said Teresa Beasley, a sexual assault response coordinator at the academy.

That mindset isn't limited to cadets and young people, she said. "I would encourage people to come in as soon as possible, so they don't have to suffer, to go through that alone."

In a year in which the military has reeled from high-profile sex scandals from the dozens of training instructors under investigation at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland to the resignation of retired Army Gen. David Petraeus as head of the CIA amid the fallout from an affair Beasley talked to Air Force Times about what the academy is doing to educate the service's next generation of leaders.

Since January, the academy has announced sexual assault charges against five cadets, and at least one more is expected in the coming weeks. One case ended in a conviction; another was thrown out for lack of evidence. The remaining cases are ongoing, including the most recent in which junior Anthony D. Daniels Jr. is accused of assaulting two fellow cadets two years apart. The convening authority will decide whether to send Daniels to court-martial.

The Air Force Academy did not provide the frequency of sexual assault reports but plans to release an updated report by year's end, spokesman Meade Warthen said.

Beasley said in the past two years the delay between a sexual assault and the victim's willingness to come forward has decreased from eight to 10 months to about four months.

"There are a lot of variables. We don't know if it's more cadet involvement, more social awareness. We hope it's because we're connecting better and they trust us. It's a good trend. We hope that continues," she said. Treatment is far better than it once was, she said. "People can actually get better sooner."

But what Beasley and Air Force leaders would really like to chip away at is the number of sexual assaults.

"We're trying to get to zero sexual assaults," Beasley said. "It's a lofty goal. But I think we'll get there."

The academy has begun to develop a bystander intervention program curriculum to teach cadets how to recognize harmful situations and what to do about them. That could include taking the keys away from a person who is about to drive under the influence or stepping in when a friend who has had too much to drink is being led away from the safety of her group.

"We want them first to be aware of when things are looking iffy and, second, what to do about it," Beasley said. "We're not there 24 hours a day. You have to keep an eye on each other."

Bystander intervention training, BIT for short, was made mandatory this summer for all service members and civilian supervisors. The service academies weren't included in the requirement, Beasley said.

"Eighteen- to 24-year-olds are the most at-risk group. It's important that they get that," she said.

BIT in the Air Force targets three groups men, women and leaders through 90-minute classes that lead participants through real-life scenarios, according to a news release in May.

"Intervention by third parties is often the key to stopping violence and sexual assaults against anyone," BIT instructor Master Sgt. Kimberly Perez said in the release. "Unfortunately, fear, complacency and the desire not to get involved in disputes of others or the lack of courage can result in tragedy."

The academy has partnered with a company to create videos featuring the kinds of situations students may encounter.

"Sometimes young people talk themselves out of stepping in," Beasley said, particularly in cases that could potentially escalate into sexual assaults. "They think, ‘Maybe they know each other, maybe they're dating,' so they don't get involved. We want them to be able to access that, to err on the side of the caution, in a way that would work for them."

A hundred cadets volunteered to be involved in the videos, which were shot this summer around campus, including at the pub.

"We plan to implement it next fall," Beasley said. "We want to make sure we're showing it the right class year."

Sophomores will likely be the first to get the training; they are beginning to have more freedoms at the academy, they are approaching the legal drinking age and they are most susceptible to sexual assault, she said.

The SARC office is working with the school's Department of Behavioral Sciences to develop a two-part class that will teach bystander intervention to small groups of 30 or fewer, Beasley said.

"We want to be very interactive, to engage them. Sometimes we do these trainings with a thousand cadets. We can't do that," she said.

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