Stu­dents’ grow­ing con­fi­dence in re­port sys­tem­con­tributes to sta­tis­tics

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Lolita C. Baldor and Dan El­liott

Re­ports of sex­ual as­saults at the three mil­i­tary acad­e­mies surged in the 2014- 15 school year, ac­cord­ing to Pen­tagon of­fi­cials. The Air Force Academy had the largest in­crease.

wash­ing­ton » Re­ports of sex­ual as­saults at the three ma­jor mil­i­tary acad­e­mies surged in the 2014- 15 school year, led by the Air Force Academy, where the num­ber nearly dou­bled, the De­fense Depart­ment said Fri­day.

Com­plaints of sex­ual ha­rass­ment also spiked, the depart­ment said.

Pen­tagon of­fi­cials said the sharp in­creases largely were the re­sult of stu­dents’ grow­ing con­fi­dence in the re­port­ing sys­te­mand ex­panded aware­ness pro­grams, but the an­nounce­ment raised nag­ging ques­tions about whether sex­ual mis­con­duct is ris­ing at the schools.

“I think it’s ap­pro­pri­ate for peo­ple to feel frus­trated about hear­ing this in the news. Bot­tom­line is that if this were an easy prob­lem, we would have solved it years ago,” said Nate Gal­breath, the se­nior ex­ec­u­tive ad­viser for the Pen­tagon’s sex­ual as­sault preven­tion of­fice. “Un­for­tu­nately, this is a very hard prob­lem to solve.”

The Army, Navy and Air Force acad­e­mies re­ceived 91 re­ports of sex­ual as­sault in 201415, up from 59 in the pre­vi­ous school year.

The Air Force Academy ac­counted for 49 of the sex­ual as­sault re­ports, com­pared with 25 the pre­vi­ous year. Of­fi­cials at the school out­side Colorado Springs de­clined to be in­ter­viewed but is­sued a writ­ten state­ment say­ing the 25 re­ported in the 2013- 14 school year was un­usu­ally low com­pared with pre­vi­ous years. The school had 51 re­ports in 2011- 12 and 44 in 2012- 13.

The Air Force Academy state­ment said vic­tims are the school’s main con­cern.

“To pro­vide them the care they need, we must en­cour­age them to come for­ward and re­port th­ese crimes. In do­ing so, cadets demon­strate their trust and con­fi­dence in our pro­gram,” the academy said.

The U. S. Mil­i­tary Academy at West Point, N. Y., re­ported 17 as­saults in 2014- 15, up from

11 the pre­vi­ous year. The Naval Academy in An­napo­lis, Md., re­ported 25, com­pared with 23 a year ear­lier.

Se­nior Pen­tagon lead­ers have ar­gued for years that in­creased re­port­ing is a good thing be­cause it sug­gests vic­tims are­morewil­l­ing to come­for­ward. Sex­ual as­sault in civil­ian and mil­i­tary so­ci­ety his­tor­i­cally has been a vastly un­der­re­ported crime be­cause vic­tims of­ten fear reprisals or stigma or they worry that they won’t be be­lieved or don’t want to go through the emo­tional tur­moil of a court case.

Eight of the 91 as­saults re­ported in 2014- 15 oc­curred be­fore the stu­dent en­tered mil­i­tary ser­vice.

Also, sex­ual ha­rass­ment com­plaints rose by 40 per­cent to a to­tal of 28 dur­ing the last school year. The Naval Academy had 13, Air Force eight andWest Point seven. School- by- school to­tals for the pre­vi­ous year weren’t re­leased.

Gal­breath said a key rec­om­men­da­tion this year is for the acad­e­mies to put more em­pha­sis on sex­ual ha­rass­ment preven­tion and train­ing be­cause of­ten ha­rass­ment leads to as­sault. Dis­cus­sions with fo­cus groups and other stud­ies found that al­though stu­dents know how to re­port sex­ual as­saults and how to treat vic­tims, they didn’t knowas much about what makes up sex­ual ha­rass­ment and what to do about it.

One prob­lem is that sex­ual ha­rass­ment is han­dled by var­i­ous mil­i­tary Equal Op­por­tu­nity of­fices, while sex­ual as­sault is­sues are han­dled by the Sex­ual As­sault Preven­tion and Re­sponse Of­fices.

“That im­proved em­pha­sis on sex­ual ha­rass­ment will likely lead to preven­tion of sex­ual as­sault,” Gal­breath said. “We are smarter now, and we know that a lot of other fac­tors are be­gin­ning to play into preven­tion work.”

Themilitary held 10 fo­cus group ses­sions in March and April 2015 with academy stu­dents and mem­bers of the fac­ulty and staff, and those showed progress in at­ti­tudes about ha­rass­ment, of­fi­cials said. Seven fo­cus groups were with stu­dents and three with mem­bers of the fac­ulty and staff.

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