SEX ASSAULTS AT ACADEMY RISE IN 2014- 15
Students’ growing confidence in report systemcontributes to statistics
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.