More than two-thirds of the sexual assaults reported at the military academies in academic year 2012-13 occurred at the Air Force Academy, but Defense Department officials said yesterday that could be a sign of progress.
The officials credited Teresa Beasley, the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator at the Air Force Academy, with aggressively promoting an open-door policy for cadets to report incidents and encouraging them to overcome peer pressure to keep silent.
"[Beasley] and her team have worked overtime," said Air Force Col. Alan Metzler, deputy director of DoD's Sexual Assault and Prevention Office, and Beasley was also the most experienced of the Sexual Assault Response Coordinators at the academies.
Beasley told an Air Force publication last January that the key to enforcement was getting across to cadets that their complaints will be taken seriously.
"The bottom line is trust," Beasley said. "I consider anyone who walks into my office a victory, because the counseling they get here is fabulous."
Metzler said that cadets are encouraged to monitor the offensive behavior of their classmates but "sticking your neck out and telling someone to knock it off is a difficult thing to do."
In a statement, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, Superintendent of the Air Force Academy, said that the 45 reports of sexual assault at the academy in academic year 2012-13 were a decrease from 52 in the same period of the previous year.
"We remain encouraged by the reporting numbers because we believe it reflects victim confidence in our program," Johnson said. "However, our ultimate goal is zero incidents."
The annual report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Service Academies showed that the total number of sexual assaults reported was 70 at the service academies in academic year 2012-13. That was a decrease from 80 reported at the academies in the previous year.
The Air Force Academy had 45 reports, and 27 of those were filed as "restricted," meaning that the complainant did not wish to pursue an investigation.
The Naval Academy had 15 reports, with 11 of those restricted. The 15 reports at the Naval Academy were a slight increase from the 13 in the previous year. West Point had 10 reports, of which three were restricted. West Point had 15 reports of sexual assault in the previous year.
At a Pentagon briefing, Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, the director of DoD's Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Office, said the focus of cadets and midshipmen at the three academies showed that they increasingly believed that "reports of sexual harassment would be taken seriously by academy leaders, and they would be dealt with appropriately."
However, peer pressure to keep quiet about sexual assault and harassment remains a problem and "that's not good," Snow said.
The report stated that the service academies "need to strengthen their efforts to improve victim reporting and participation in the military justice process."
The report also noted that "at each of the three academies there is evidence that some cadets and midshipmen disregarded academy policies and practices in these areas and engaged in gender-related misbehavior and misconduct, targeting fellow cadets and midshipmen as the focus of crude and offensive language and sexist comments."
Nate Galbreath, who wrote the report for DoD, said that recent action to set up special counsels for victims of sexual assault was expected to increase reports of incidents.
"We believe this is a game-changer," Galbreath said at the Pentagon briefing. "These lawyers are provided to victims of sexual assault, and whether they file a restricted or unrestricted report, they will be able to discuss the case with their own attorney and be able to discuss the pros and cons of going forward with their cases or leaving them restricted."
Elizabeth P. Van Winkle, who ran focus groups at the three academies for the Defense Manpower Center, said that 80-90 percent of female cadets and midshipmen reported experiencing "typical locker room talk" and crude behavior.
Such behavior led Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, Jr., the West Point Superintendent, to disband the rugby team temporarily last year.
"There were people within the organization that became desensitized to the degradation of respect," Caslen told the Associated Press. "But there were also people in the organization that recognized it as being wrong and elected not to do anything."
In a statement in response to the report, the Naval Academy said that "each new class is briefed by the SAPR (Sexual Assault Prevention and Response) staff on their first day on campus, and all midshipmen receive over thirty hours of training and education over the course of their four years in the Brigade."
The Naval Academy claimed that "this is more mandatory training and education than any other college or university in the country provides."
The Naval Academy also said "myriad measures" had been undertaken to promote a culture of respect on the sports teams following the scandal last year that led to charges of sexual assault being filed against three former football players for allegedly violating a female midshipman at an off-campus hangout known as the "football house."
Charges against two of the three football players have since been dropped for lack of evidence, but the third, Joshua Tate, was expected to face court-martial next month.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who has proposed legislation that would strip commanders of their authority in sexual assault cases, said it was hard to draw conclusions from the Defense Department's report on the academies.
"However, it is clear that the prevalence of sexual assault in the military and the crisis of under-reporting continues to extend to the academies and that is tragic and heart breaking," Gillibrand said in a statement.