Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said Thursday the Navy has "failed' to protect Naval Academy midshipmen from a sexual assault trend that is getting worse.
He made the comments two days after it was revealed the Navy has charged a Naval Academy instructor with raping a midshipman, and one month after the Pentagon issued a report that found the U.S. military academies have seen a 23 percent spike in reported sexual assaults.
Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert traveled to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., on Jan. 7 in a previously unannounced trip to speak to the entire brigade about their concerns with the increase in sexual assaults.
"After I saw that report, I went to the Academy. I had the whole brigade there. I didn't have any press there because I just wanted to talk,” Mabus said. "We have failed at the Naval Academy in terms of preventing this.”
The Naval Academy was the only academy of the three surveyed by the Pentagon to see a decrease in the number of sexual assaults reported. Reports dropped from 22 to 15 in the 2011-2012 academic year -- the year covered in the report.
However, the number of unreported sexual assaults went up at the Naval Academy as 225 midshipmen told Pentagon investigators they had experienced unwanted sexual contact that year. Mabus said the drop in reports worries him.
"In terms of reporting, reports went down so there is something that's happening that is not right,” he said.
Sexual assault is a problem that extends beyond the Naval Academy to the entire fleet; however, Pentagon reports have found it is worse at the academies. A midshipmen or cadet is three times more likely to be sexually assaulted than an active duty troop, according to the December report.
The Navy had treated the Naval Academy differently from the rest of the fleet when it came to combating sexual assault, Mabus said. Best practices and lessons learned in the fleet didn't get applied to the Naval Academy. The Secretary of the Navy said that was a mistake.
It's a mistake the Naval Academy has taken steps to fix. Naval Academy officials will conduct a Sexual Assault "Stampout” Standown once midshipmen return from winter break in January. They will spend that time completing the recently developed Fleet Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Training.
"As a team, the Naval Academy sees these results as a call to action, and is uniformly committed to taking positive and proactive steps in the fight against the egregious acts of sexual assault and harassment,” said Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Michael Miller in December.
Mabus said he was disappointed that midshipmen would allow their fellow shipmates to be "attacked.”
"This shouldn't be happening and midshipmen can do better, they've got to do better, and they will,” Mabus said.
The present case facing the Naval Academy is one where an instructor, a Marine major, is charged with raping a midshipman. Marine Maj. Mark A. Thompson is facing two counts of aggravated sexual assault, two counts of fraternization, and three counts of conduct unbecoming an officer.
Thompson is accused of sexually assaulting a midshipman while having sex with another midshipman at his Annapolis apartment in April 2011 after the annual croquet match between the Naval Academy and St. Johns College.
At his Article 32 hearing on Tuesday, Ensign Sarah Stadler, a former female midshipman, told an investigating officer how she had carried on a sexual relationship with Thompson. On the night in question, she showed up to Thompson's apartment with another female midshipman. Both midshipmen were drunk after drinking tequila, wine, champagne and a "fishbowl margarita” throughout the day, Stadler said.
Mabus was asked Thursday if he was worried that other Naval Academy instructors and staff members were involved in inappropriate relationships with midshipmen.
"Obviously with the charge, we will be taking a much closer look,” Mabus said at the Surface Naval Academy conference in Crystal City, Va.
The Naval Academy has not opened a formal investigation to see if any other inappropriate relationships exist between instructors and midshipmen, said Cmdr. William Marks, the Naval Academy spokesman. The Naval Academy has "not found any evidence of other inappropriate relationships and we are not investigating any at this time,” he wrote in an email to Military.com.
After Air Force officials discovered in 2012 that drill instructors at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, had sexually assaulted recruits, the service completed a comprehensive investigation in which every recruit was questioned to determine if more crimes had been committed. That investigation has led to additional charges against drill instructors.
Mabus said the Navy investigated the treatment of recruits at Naval Station Great Lakes, Ill., and did not find the same problems seen at Lackland. The Navy has used Great Lakes as a test case for a new sexual assault prevention program called Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention and Education that started in 2011.
Naval Academy officials are collecting information on it with the potential that aspects of it will be instituted at the academy. Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mark Ferguson has said he's optimistic with the results they have seen.
Mabus said stamping out the culture that has allowed so many sexual assaults to occur each year throughout the Navy is a top priority.
"It is shameful that we have one sexual assault occur,” Mabus said. "When you take that oath you are saying you are willing to risk your life for your shipmate. This is an attack on your shipmate.”