The U.S. Naval Academy has appropriately responded to past reports of sexual assault, but the school could do more to track cases that don't involve official investigations, a Defense Department inspector general audit has found.
In its third report on the DoD's handling of sexual assault cases at the service academies, the Office of the Inspector General found that the Naval Academy's Sexual Assault Prevention Office, or SAPRO, appropriately provided services to students who experienced sexual assault and said the Naval Criminal Investigative Service followed policy while investigating cases.
But SAPRO personnel did not have a process or system to document interactions with victims who chose not to file an official report of an assault. Nor did they keep records of referrals made on behalf of victims for services in cases where the person chose not to file a report, the IG found.
Naval Academy officials told investigators that they didn't track the contacts out of concern for victims' privacy and confidentiality. But inspectors said having a process would help the SAPRO better measure efforts to help victims and understand the scope of the problem.
"A process to track consults and contacts would result in a more complete understanding of the universe of sexual assaults that were reported and the full level of services requested within the USNA," wrote Randolph Stone, assistant inspector general for evaluations of space, intelligence, engineering and oversight.
The tracking gap will be resolved beginning Oct. 1, when DoD policy requires that the information be collected, according to the report, Evaluation of the Department of Defense's Handling of Incidents of Sexual Assault Against (or Involving) Midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy.
Evaluations of the service academies' sexual assault programs were launched in 2017 after news reports indicated that more than a dozen Air Force Academy cadets were retaliated against by commanders and peers in connection with reporting a sexual assault.
The first DoD inspector general's report, on the Air Force Academy, was released in October 2019. It found that DoD failed to report 11 sexual assault cases to Congress as required by law and also did not tell lawmakers about 24 cases reported between 2015 and 2017.
That report also noted that the school's SAPRO did not track interactions with cadets who chose not to file an official report.
Likewise, the DoD IG found that the sexual assault and prevention office at the U.S. Military Academy failed to document contacts or consultations with cadets and also did not track its victim referrals for those who didn't file official reports.
The watchdog found, however, that all three schools' offices properly provided services and referrals to victims, and in no instances did the schools' leadership kick out those who reported a sexual assault.
At the Air Force Academy, the IG found eight cadets who disenrolled from the school after reporting a sexual assault, two of whom voluntarily separated for personal reasonsm and five of whom were involuntarily separated for a history of medical, disciplinary or academic issues prior to reporting.
The eighth cadet, who was involuntarily separated, filed a complaint with a member of Congress alleging retaliation; the DoD Inspector General concluded there was cause for dismissal and the investigations into the cadet's performance were part of the member's due process.
At the U.S. Military Academy, the auditors found nine cases in which cadets reported a sexual assault and later left the school. In three of the cases, the cadets left for academic or personal reasons without their leadership knowing they had filed a report and in five cases, they either resigned voluntarily or left for academic or medical reasons. The remaining cadet resigned from the school for criminal misconduct.
At the Naval Academy, investigators found three instances where midshipmen filed formal reports of sexual assault and later left the school, including one who departed after an honor code violation; one who graduated but received a medical discharge from the service; and a third who also received a medical discharge.
"We found that there were sufficient and well-documented reasons for the separations, which substantiated that the separations were not retaliation for reporting sexual assaults," Stone wrote.
A DoD report on sexual assaults at the academies released in 2019 found that 747 students reported experiencing "unwanted sexual contact" in the 2017-18 academic year.
The figure represented a 47% increase from the previous report covering the 2015-2016 school year.
The most recent report, released earlier this year, showed that there were 88 reports of sexual assaults during the 2019-20 school year, compared with 122 reports the previous year.
Defense officials attributed the drop to the COVID-19 pandemic, as most cadets and midshipmen were sent home to participate in classes virtually. Until March, 2020, however, the number of reports matched "quarter-for-quarter," according to Nathan Galbreath, deputy director of the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.
The IG did not make any recommendations for the academy on improving its program.
Naval Academy officials did not respond to a request for comment by publication.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.