As mil­i­tary strug­gles, re­ports of sex as­saults up at West Point, An­napo­lis

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Lolita C. Baldor

wash­ing­ton» Re­ports of sex­ual as­saults in­creased at two of the three mil­i­tary acad­e­mies last year and an anony­mous sur­vey sug­gests sex­ual mis­con­duct rose across the board at the schools, The As­so­ci­ated Press has learned.

The new data un­der­score the chal­lenge in stem­ming bad be­hav­ior by young peo­ple at the mil­i­tary col­lege cam­puses, de­spite a slew of pro­grams de­signed to pre­vent as­saults, help vic­tims and en­cour­age them to come for­ward. The dif­fi­cul­ties in some ways mir­ror those the larger mil­i­tary is strug­gling with amid rev­e­la­tions about Marines and other ser­vice mem­bers shar­ing nude photos on web­sites.

As­sault re­ports rose at the Naval Acad­emy in An­napo­lis, Md., and the Mil­i­tary Acad­emy at West Point, N.Y., while drop­ping at the Air Force

Acad­emy in Colorado Springs. The Air Force de­cline was sharp, go­ing to 32 last year from 49 in 2015, con­tribut­ing to an over­all de­crease in the over­all num­ber of re­ported as­saults at the acad­e­mies. The to­tal re­ported cases fell to 86 from 91 in 2015, ac­cord­ing to de­tails ob­tained by The AP.

“The acad­emy con­tin­ues to work to elim­i­nate sex­ual as­sault, while de­vel­op­ing the best pos­si­ble pro­grams to as­sist those who have been af­fected by these crimes,” said Meade Warthen, chief of me­dia re­la­tions at the Air Force Acad­emy. “(The acad­emy) ac­tively part­ners with other uni­ver­si­ties, the Air Force and civil­ian or­ga­ni­za­tions to share best prac­tices on ed­u­ca­tion and pre­ven­tion to make us stronger to­gether.”

Pen­tagon and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials be­lieve more peo­ple are re­port­ing sex­ual as­saults, which they see as a pos­i­tive trend be­cause it sug­gests stu­dents have more con­fi­dence in the sys­tem and greater will­ing­ness to seek help.

But the anony­mous sur­vey re­sults sug­gest more as­saults and crime are oc­cur­ring. They showed more than 12 per­cent of women and nearly 2 per­cent of men say­ing they ex­pe­ri­enced un­wanted sex­ual con­tact.

In that sur­vey, the largest in­creases in sex­ual mis­con­duct were also at the Navy and Army acad­e­mies. A vast ma­jor­ity of stu­dents said they didn’t file a re­port on the as­sault be­cause they didn’t con­sider it se­ri­ous enough. Many women said they took steps to avoid the per­pe­tra­tor, while more than a third of the men said they con­fronted the per­son.

Se­nior de­fense of­fi­cials ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment. They were par­tic­u­larly con­cerned that more men and women said they ex­pe­ri­enced un­wanted sex­ual con­tact. The rate two years ago was about 8 per­cent of women and 1 per­cent of men.

“This is al­most a new pop­u­la­tion of folks ev­ery four years and that makes it a lit­tle bit more dif­fi­cult for the mes­sages to build up and gather mo­men­tum,” said Nate Gal­breath, deputy di­rec­tor of the Pen­tagon’s sex­ual as­sault pre­ven­tion of­fice.

Of­fi­cials strug­gled to iden­tify a rea­son. They said some blame may fall on stu­dent lead­ers and how much they are will­ing to em­pha­size and en­force sex­ual as­sault pre­ven­tion pro­grams among peers.

“Un­less the stu­dents have a bit of ac­count­abil­ity on their own, un­less they take the charge them­selves, (se­nior) lead­er­ship can re­ally only take them so far,” said El­iz­a­beth Van Win­kle, who is cur­rently the as­sis­tant de­fense sec­re­tary for readi­ness. “If the stu­dents aren’t tak­ing the charge them­selves, you won’t make as much head­way in this pop­u­la­tion.”

Gal­breath said sex­ual as­sault pre­ven­tion in­struc­tion may be get­ting lost amid the many mes­sages about so­cial be­hav­ior, in­clud­ing not drink­ing and driv­ing, or tex­ting and driv­ing.

The Pen­tagon, he said, is en­cour­ag­ing the acad­e­mies to in­crease the amount of time they spend talk­ing about how fu­ture lead­ers must fos­ter a cli­mate of dig­nity and re­spect. He said stu­dents should know that en­forc­ing good con­duct is some­thing they will need to do as of­fi­cers when they grad­u­ate and lead troops in com­bat.

In re­cent months, mil­i­tary lead­ers have met to try to find what Gal­breath called the “holy grail of pre­ven­tion.”

One ex­am­ple, he said, would in­volve talk­ing more to the stu­dents about when and how to in­ter­vene when they see a bad sit­u­a­tion de­vel­op­ing. Such sce­nar­ios in­clude when they are in a bar drink­ing or in a work­place in which a boss is the prob­lem.

“What we want those folks to do at the acad­e­mies is to find those things that seem to re­ally be hall­mark sit­u­a­tions and help peo­ple be bet­ter scouts and iden­tify those pre­cur­sors ear­lier and also give them a wider range of things that they might be able to do to in­ter­vene,” Gal­breath said.

Gal­breath and Van Win­kle said drink­ing re­mains a ma­jor con­cern, fac­tor­ing in about 60 per­cent of in­ci­dents women cite and nearly half of those men cite. They said the acad­e­mies have been putting al­co­hol pro­grams in place, in­clud­ing some that re­quire stu­dents to take a class be­fore turn­ing 21.

Sex­ual ha­rass­ment re­ports filed by stu­dents dropped at all three acad­e­mies.

The over­all to­tal fell to 10 last year from 28 in 2015. The anony­mous sur­vey showed roughly half of the women and slightly more than 10 per­cent of men say­ing they were sex­u­ally ha­rassed, near the same level as the pre­vi­ous sur­vey. The sur­veys are con­ducted ev­ery two years.

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