Sexual assault reports drop at service academies

  • Published
  • By Jim Garamone
  • American Forces Press Service

Reports of sexual assault decreased in two of the three military academies in academic year 2012-13, officials of the Defense Department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office said today.

The statistics came from DOD's Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies, which is being delivered to Congress today.

During the academic year, a total of 70 reports were made at the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy or the U.S. Air Force Academy, officials said. The number of sexual assaults reported declined at West Point and Colorado Springs, but rose at Annapolis.

A report of sexual assault means at least one military victim or subject, said Col. Alan Metzler, an official with the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Office.

Of the 70 reports, 53 came from cadets and midshipmen for events they experienced in military service. "We are getting reports from victims for events prior to their military service or prior to entering the service academies," Metzler said.

The report provides an assessment of the effectiveness of the service academies' policies and training to prevent sexual violence. The assessment found the academies were compliant with their policies regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault during the academic year, which ran from June 2012 to May 2013.

"What we found was the academies instituted a lot of new initiatives to enhance training, improve awareness of sexual harassment and assault and to promote a safe environment for all cadets and midshipmen," Metzler said.

The report includes information from focus groups of midshipmen and cadets. "They told us – and we're pleased by this – that reports of sexual assault or sexual harassment would be taken seriously by academy leaders, and they would be dealt with appropriately," the colonel said. "That's the good news."

Still, cadets and midshipmen also identified some peer pressure barriers to reporting these crimes, he said.

Noting that these young men and women are the future officers and leaders of the U.S. military, Metzler said it is important to put in place programs, regulations and policies in these schools to change the culture that permits the crimes of sexual assault to take place.

Dr. Nate Galbreath, who wrote the report, put the drop in reports in perspective. "We want to see more reports," he said. "This is an under-reported crime. The challenge we have this year is that without the prevalence number to understand the rate of sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact, it is hard to interpret this data."

The anonymous survey that provides an estimate of how often cadets and midshipmen experience unwanted sexual contact is only done every two years.

"We do want to continue to see reports of sexual assault go up -- this is a historically under-reported crime," Galbreath said. "More reports means we can provide victims they help they need, that we can independently investigate and hold offenders appropriately accountable. We are encouraging our superintendents to take some steps to increase victims' confidence."

Servicewide, the biggest news in the sexual assault prevention and response world is establishing special victims' counsels. "We believe this is a game-changer," Galbreath said. "These lawyers are provided to victims of sexual assault, and whether they file a restricted or unrestricted report, they will be able to discuss the case with their own attorney and be able to discuss the pros and cons of going forward with their cases or leaving them restricted.

"That and other programs, we hope, will increase confidence in the process, and that seems to be the case."