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Reporting sexual assault still looming problem

Jan. 13, 2013 - 09:23AM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 13, 2013 - 09:23AM  |  
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The more than four dozen people who made a sexual assault report at the Air Force Academy rarely did so immediately after the alleged attack, with nearly half waiting a year or more to come forward, an examination of the 2011-2012 Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies shows.

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The more than four dozen people who made a sexual assault report at the Air Force Academy rarely did so immediately after the alleged attack, with nearly half waiting a year or more to come forward, an examination of the 2011-2012 Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies shows.

A majority of those who made reports pointed to a cadet as the perpetrator. About three in 10 reports stated the sexual assaults occurred on academy grounds, according to data.

The report, released by the Defense Department late last month, showed that while the number of reports is steadily increasing at the nation's service academies, the frequency of sexual assaults has remained about the same. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta responded tepidly to the new data, writing in a memo to academy superintendents that he was concerned by the lack of progress in combating the crime among future military leaders.

"Despite our considerable and ongoing efforts," wrote Panetta, the report "demonstrates that we have a persistent problem."

The secretary called for a "strong and immediate response" and directed academy leaders to find new ways to "advance a climate of dignity and respect" and to further integrate sexual assault and harassment prevention into academy life.

"The goal of this effort is to create sustainable change to academy culture that specifically will lower the prevalence and increase reporting of sexual assault and harassment," Panetta wrote.

But the increase in reporting was relatively good news, particularly at the Air Force Academy, which saw a nearly 60 percent leap from the prior program year. The average increase at all three military institutions the Air Force, Military and Naval academies was 23 percent.

"We are hopeful that this overall increase in reports is an indicator of trust in the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program," said an Air Force Academy executive summary.

One of the most daunting challenges the office faces is the delay in reporting, although victims are now waiting half as long as they did five years ago, from eight to 10 months to four.

Still, it isn't soon enough, according to the report. Evidence can't be collected. "Victims who delay reporting typically struggle with health, grades, physical education, physical testing scores" and relationships, it said.

The academy counted 52 sexual assault reports in 2011-2012, according to the Defense Department, although "the total number of new reports concerning incidents that occurred while cadets were enrolled at [the academy] is 36."

A dozen of the assaults were alleged to have occurred prior to the cadet entering the service. Four cases were from previous years but were converted from restricted to unrestricted reports in 2011-2012. Restricted reports allow victims to receive support services but do not involve law enforcement or the cadet's chain-of-command.

Teresa Beasley, a sexual assault response coordinator at the Air Force Academy, said she considers each new report a success. Victims who come forward can get the help and support to move forward.

Each report also provides insight into the crime, information that could be used to help prevent assaults in the future, academy officials said.

Data showed that first- and third-year cadets were more likely to be victimized than those in their second or fourth years. Sexual assaults were also more likely to occur between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. They tended to spike on Saturdays.

Alcohol played a role in at least two of the seven reported sexual assaults briefly detailed in the DoD study.

"Victim was at a party off base," began one summary. "She drank alcohol and had trouble remembering much of the night. She remembered 'waking up' in subject's room with her clothes mostly off, and the subject naked on top of her."

The woman, in her third year, recalled that the man had sex with her but could remember few other details, it said. "Upon legal review of facts with victim, [she] declined to participate further" in the case.

In the second case explicitly said to have involved alcohol, the alleged victim and perpetrator met at a party and returned "highly intoxicated" to the academy dorms, where they had sex. "Victim only recalled fragmentary memories of the sexual activity," it said.

The cadet was charged but saw his case dismissed at an Article 32, or preliminary, hearing, by the command. The cadet instead faced administrative punishment.

One of the seven cases was still ongoing. Of the six concluded cases, one ended in a conviction at court-martial. The victim in that case was described as "substantially incapacitated."

Four of the alleged victims refused to cooperate with authorities.

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