Sexual assault reports at the Air Force Academy jumped nearly 60 percent during the last academic year while the prevalence of the crime remained about the same, according to a new Defense Department study. (Air Force)
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Sexual assault reports at the Air Force Academy jumped nearly 60 percent during the last academic year while the prevalence of the crime remained about the same, according to a new Defense Department study.
The results, which mirror the two other service institutions — the Military Academy and the Naval Academy — signal greater victim confidence but show that efforts to reduce sexual assaults among future military leaders have been unsuccessful.
Air Force cadets made 52 sexual assault reports during the 2011-2012 year, up 58 percent from 33 in 2010-2011. They also accounted for 65 percent of the 80 reports made at all three academies, despite similar student populations.
In 44 of the 80 reports, victims said they were victimized by a fellow cadet or midshipman, the study said. Twenty-five incidents occurred on academy grounds.
Since sex assault is one of the most under-reported crimes, the military has long relied on an anonymous survey to measure the rate of such incidents, director of the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office Maj. Gen. Gary Patton said in a news conference with reporters before the release of the report Dec. 21.
Fewer than 15 percent of sexual assault victims in a college environment report the crime, according to the study. That number stands at around 11 percent at the service academies.
At the Air Force Academy, far more are making reports — about 28 percent of victims, Col. Stella Renner, vice commandant of culture and climate, said in a telephone interview.
"While we hate to see we have sexual assaults, we are very proud we have a strong reporting climate," Renner said.
That shows cadets feel more comfortable asking for help after they are victimized and that there is increased trust in the system, she insisted.
"We're seeing cases where victims who have come forward in the past are bringing in other people they know of who may have had a situation they haven't reported yet. Nobody's going to tell on you. It's private. You can start healing and moving on," Renner said.
Reporting has been on the uptick at all three academies since 2008 and increased by 23 percent overall from the last academic year, Patton said.
"Any sexual assault is bad, and our goal is always to eliminate sexual assault," he said. "The more we know about the incidents that do happen, the more we can help victims become survivors, [gain] insight into what's going on" and prosecute perpetrators.
But both Patton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta expressed concern at what they described as a persistent problem and a lack of progress in combating it.
"There is not enough progress in preventing sexual harassment and assaults," Patton said.
In a memo, Panetta directed the institutions to find new ways to "integrate sexual assault and harassment prevention into the full spectrum of academy life and learning" and ordered them to report back March 29.
The DoD report followed a year of high-profile sex scandals in the military, from the resignation of CIA director and retired Army Gen. David Petraeus to the investigation of more than two dozen military training instructors at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
There was no statistical increase in incidents of sexual assault at the Air Force Academy from 2010-2011, Renner said. Sexual harassment decreased significantly there but remained unchanged at the Military and Naval academies, the study showed.
Victims who did not make a report indicated in the anonymous survey that they took care of the incident themselves, that they did not want anyone to know about it and did not want people gossiping about what had happened to them.
Those who chose to make a report said they needed help dealing with an emotional event, that they wanted to stop the offender from hurting others and that they wanted to see justice served.
Reports of sexual assaults fall into two categories: restricted and unrestricted. Unrestricted reports involve law enforcement and the chain of command of the victim and the accused. Restricted reports afford victims privacy while making support services available to them.
Twenty-one of the 52 reports at the Air Force Academy were unrestricted, Renner said.
She said the academy plans to study each of the reports. "We'll continue to work and see if there are other things we need to consider. We look for trending information to see if there might be something we can do from a police [change], lights, locks on doors."
Next year, the academy plans to begin bystander intervention training. The training teaches cadets how to identify potentially dangerous situations and intervene safely.
Teresa Beasley, sexual assault response coordinator at the Air Force Academy, called it "a good way ahead. I think they want to help each other," she said of cadets. "This will give them the skills to do that."
Beasley said the academy has worked hard to raise awareness around campus. "Whenever you raise awareness, reports go up," she said. "I consider anyone that walks in a victory."