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Blitzer
12-21-2008, 11:40
AF Academy Reports More Sex Assaults (http://www.military.com/news/article/af-academy-reports-more-sex-assaults.html?col=1186032310810)

December 19, 2008
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services <!-- Uncomment this when the Jive comments functionality is available -->

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The Air Force Academy had more reported sexual assaults in the past school year than the Naval Academy or the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, according to the Pentagon's annual report released Wednesday.

Far from alarmed about the Air Force's numbers, Pentagon leaders say they show too many midshipmen at Annapolis, Md., and cadets at West Point, N.Y., are keeping silent about sexual assaults.

In the report to Congress on sexual violence at the military academies, the number of sexual assaults reported at Air Force dwarfed those of its two sister academies.

At Air Force, 24 sexual assaults were reported from June 2007 to May 2008, of which six involved cadets assaulting another cadet and were formally reported to commanders. One of those resulted in criminal charges.
At West Point, four sexual assaults were reported, while the Navy had six reports.

In its presentation to lawmakers, the Pentagon called the increase at Air Force "encouraging."

"We must foster a climate at the academies wherein victims no longer avoid reporting these crimes," said David Chu, Defense Department undersecretary for personnel and readiness, in a statement. "There is much work still to be done."

The Pentagon's top sexual assault prevention expert says high numbers at the Air Force Academy mean the school has cadets who trust leaders and are more likely to report attacks.

"The message we want to get out is that higher numbers aren't necessarily a bad thing," said Kaye Whitley, who directs the Defense Department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.

Whitley said sexual assault is one of the least-reported crimes, with an estimated 90 percent of victims keeping silent after attacks. And military culture may encourage the silence because leaders think high numbers reflect badly on them.

"I'm afraid some commanders in the field may think lower numbers are better," she said.

The Air Force Academy underwent wholesale changes after a sexual assault scandal erupted in 2003 in which dozens of women said their claims of sexual assault were mishandled or ignored. Now, cadets get 114 hours of sexual assault prevention training during their four years and commanders hammer away that every sexual assault should be reported.

That has ballooned the number of reports for the past two years, said Col. Gail Colvin, the academy's vice commandant for culture and climate.
"We believe it reflects trust in our system," Colvin said. "They understand a report mean's we're going to help you."

The reported assaults at Air Force run the gamut from rape to unwanted touching. And while cadets were victims in every case, about half the reported attacks didn't happen on campus.

Cadets reported sexual assaults that occurred off base involving civilian attackers, and in one case, an assault that occurred overseas with an attacker who hasn't been identified.

David Lisak, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Boston who counsels universities nationwide on dealing with sexual assault, said he's been impressed for years by the Air Force Academy's efforts.

"It does say something when you see crimes that are occurring in essentially another jurisdiction, but those victims will report within the academy structure," he said. "It's a vote of confidence."

The Pentagon's report shows that victims at military academies have grown less likely to report sexual assaults than in previous years.

In 2005, anonymous surveys of cadets and midshipmen showed 322 "unwanted sexual contacts" at the three academies with 43 assault reports. The gap grew in the most recent report with 360 unwanted sexual contacts and 34 reports.

Leaders says the statistics confirm that victims at the Air Force Academy are more likely to come forward.

"The numbers mean our efforts are moving in the right direction," Colvin said, noting that 98 percent of female cadets in a recent survey said they feel safe at the academy.

The academy's superintendent, Lt. Gen. John Regni, said that he doesn't want a single sexual assault on the campus, but that he is pleased cadets are getting the message that assaults must be reported.

"We have to have an environment where anyone who needs help can come forward and get what they need," he said.
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