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Reports of sexual harassment, assault rise at service academies

  • Published
  • By Terri Moon Cronk
  • American Forces Press Service
The number of reported sexual harassment and assaults at the armed forces' three service academies is up from last year, but the rise could be due to an increase in education and training at the schools, Defense Department officials said Dec. 15.

Forty-one incidents were reported for the 2009-2010 school year, up from 25 the previous school year, according to the "Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the United States Military Service Academies" mandated yearly by Congress.

"Sexual harassment and assault are incompatible with our core values, degrade mission readiness and reflect poorly on military culture," said Clifford L. Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. "The department is committed to establishing a culture free of sexual harassment and assault at the academies, and for the force in general."

Defense officials said the recent increase in reports might not reflect an actual increase in incidents, but rather may be a result of increased training and education, in addition to victims having more confidence in the Defense Department's response. All the victims who reported a sexual assault received support assistance, officials said.

In 2005, Defense Department officials began offering victims a restricted reporting option, under which they could report a sexual assault without revealing the offender's identity. Since then, more than 3,000 people have chosen that reporting method, said Kaye Whitley, director of the department's Sexual Assault Prevention Program. This year's report reflects that about half of the cases stemmed from the restricted reporting option, she said.

"Sexual assault is one of our nation's most under-reported violent crimes, and we know the majority of sex assaults occur in the 18- to 25-year-old age range," Ms. Whitley said. "(The restricted option) gives victims the opportunity to come forward and get the medical and mental health counseling they need without filing a formal complaint so that an investigation ensues. There are a lot of barriers to reporting sexual assault."

A victim later can choose to change the restricted report to unrestricted so offenders can be held accountable, Ms. Whitley said.

The report shows restricted reports rose from 15 in 2005 to 22 in 2010. Unrestricted reports, however, fell from 27 in 2005 to 19 in 2010.

All three schools -- the Army's U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.; the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.; and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. -- are making progress in sexual assault awareness through social media, local rape crisis centers and the community, Ms. Whitley said.

She said plans for next year include onsite assessments at the military academies by a team of people from diversity management, equal employment opportunity and the armed forces.

"We'll sit down with small groups of students and delve a little deeper on the questions we ask," she said.

In the spring, Ms. Whitley said, a militarywide hotline will be set up for victims. It also will offer text messaging and online chatting with experts who can advise them.

"I think that's going to help with the under-reporting," she said, "because any time, anywhere, they can pick up the phone and make a call and there will be someone on the other end of the line who can give them the support and care they need."

According to the survey results, department officials estimate that fewer than 10 percent of incidents at the academies actually are reported.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice has eight categories for sexual assault and harassment, ranging from indecent assault to rape. All offenses reported fall into one of these eight categories.

The most reports recorded were 42 in 2005, the year the Defense Department began collecting statistics at the service academies.