Hundreds of women sexually assaulted at military academies

Women at U.S. military academies say they have faced 302 incidents of sexual assault since they enrolled, a figure the military says is comparable to civilian schools.

“We are about where college campuses are, tragically. That’s not, frankly, terribly surprising,” said David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. “These young men and women come from civil society.”

On Friday, he announced the results of the Pentagon’s first comprehensive study of assaults at the academies along with a new military-wide policy aimed at protecting the confidentiality of people who report being sexually assaulted.

Of the incidents, about a third – or 96 – were reported to authorities.

Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz surveyed cadets and midshipmen at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., last spring on an anonymous basis to gauge the scope and reporting of sexual assaults.

About 97 percent of women at the academies – 1,906 – responded to the survey. Because of the large number of men at the academies, surveyors used a random statistical sample of 30 percent of the men – or 3,107 – evenly distributed and represented across the academies.

Over 50 percent of female respondents and 11 percent of male respondents indicated experiencing some type of sexual harassment since entering the schools, the executive summary said.

Both the survey and the policy are in response to sexual assault issues in the armed forces and a scandal at the Air Force Academy that surfaced in January 2003. It led to reviews of the military’s sexual assault policies and the departures of the academy’s leadership.

Last year, nearly 150 women came forward with accusations that they had been sexually assaulted by fellow cadets between 1993 and 2003. Many alleged they were punished, ignored or ostracized by commanders for speaking out.

Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., called the survey results disturbing and disappointing. “Unfortunately, we have a serious problem at all the service academies that is going to require a concerted effort of the services, Congress and the alumni to address,” he said.

Schmitz’s survey found that the women said that since they became cadets and midshipmen there were 64 incidents in which an offender had intercourse with them against their will or without consent, and 30 incidents of anal and oral sex against their will or without consent.

It also found that there were 176 incidents in which female cadets’ and midshipmen’s “private parts” were “touched, stroked or fondled” without their consent, and 127 incidents in which someone physically attempted to have sexual intercourse or oral or anal sex but was not successful.

The assaults occurred most often in dormitories or barracks and when the women were freshmen and sophomores. The women reported that fellow cadets and midshipmen were the offenders.

Most women said they didn’t report the assaults because they feared public disclosure, ostracism, harassment, ridicule, not being believed and other repercussions. Others said they didn’t believe the offenses were serious enough to report and that they handled matters themselves.

The men polled said there were 55 incidents of sexual assault since they entered the schools.

Under the new policy, victims now will be able to confidentially disclose details of sexual assault to a health care provider, a designated sexual assault response coordinator or a victim’s advocate and receive medical treatment without triggering an official investigation.

Currently, victims can report assaults to chaplains confidentially and without fear that an investigation will be launched. That will not change.

The Pentagon’s policy “prefers complete reporting of sexual assaults to activate both victims’ services and accountability actions. However, recognizing that a mandate of complete reporting may represent a barrier for victims to gain access to services when the victim desires no command or law enforcement involvement, there is a need to provide an option for confidential reporting,” Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said in a March 16 memo to the service branches.

They have until mid-June to implement the policy, and Chu said he expected the number of reported incidents to rise because of it.


On the Net:

Defense Department:

© 2005 The Associated Press