Dec 15, 2010
DENVER – Sexual assault reports at the three U.S. military academies
rose 64 percent in the 2009-10 academic year, but many more victims
probably didn't come forward, the Defense Department said Wednesday.
A total of 41 sexual assaults involving students were reported to
authorities at West Point, the Naval Academy and the Air Force
Academy in 2009-10, the department said in its annual report on
sexual harassment and violence.
In the previous academic year, 25 were reported.
Officials point to a survey of students at the three academies taken
last spring as well as statistics from the civilian population as
indicators that the reported sexual assaults represent fewer than 10
percent of all types of unwanted sexual contact, ranging from
fondling to intercourse.
It wasn't immediately clear what percentage of the respondents had
reported behavior that would qualify as a sexual assault.
Sexual offenses are "one of the nation's most underreported crimes,"
said Kaye Whitley, director of the Defense Department's Sexual
Assault Prevention and Response program, which issued Wednesday's report.
Whitley said improved reporting of sexual assaults is one of the
department's key goals.
The report calls the increase in assault reports "concerning," but
Whitley said she was encouraged that more people came forward. She
said the increase in reports doesn't necessarily mean that more
people were assaulted.
The Air Force Academy, in Colorado Springs, Colo., had the largest
increase in reported sexual assaults, from eight in 2008-09 to 20 the
next year, a jump of 150 percent.
West Point officially, the U.S. Military Academy, in West Point,
N.Y. reported 10 assaults in 2009-10, an increase of one.
The Naval Academy, in Annapolis, Md., reported 11 assaults in
2009-10, an increase of three.
Air Force Col. Reni Renner said the eight reported at the Air Force
Academy in 2008-09 may have been unusually low. In 2006-07, 19 were
reported, and in 2007-08, it was 24.
Renner said she doesn't know the reason for the low number in
2008-09, but some at the academy have speculated that a sexual
assault case that was dismissed instead of going to trial may have
discouraged some victims to report.
Renner said she also doesn't know why the Air Force Academy has more
reports than the other two schools but said it could stem from the
confidence students have in the academy's sexual assault response coordinator.
The survey showed 47 percent of female respondents and the same
percentage of males at the Air Force Academy regarded the coordinator
as a valuable resource to "a large extent."
At the Naval Academy and West Point, the percentages for the same
answer ranged from 14 percent to 19 percent for female and male respondents.
The report outlines each academy's efforts to improve sexual assault
prevention training and reporting and to improve the "climate of
victim confidence" to encourage victims to report attacks.
Whitley said the survey of students indicated the message of the
training is getting through, with more than half indicating they
thought the training was effective in reducing assaults.
She said statistical verification that the programs are reducing
assaults is elusive.
"Prevention is the most difficult program to measure because you
never know how many sexual assaults your program prevented," she
said. "There are no models out there" to do that.
She also said research shows it takes about 10 years to change
cultural attitudes, and the military is five years into its campaign
to reduce sexual assaults.
The report says the Pentagon wants to develop a standardized process
for evaluating progress at all three academies, and that Department
of Defense officials will visit each campus as part of the next
Whitley said the Defense Department also plans to launch a sexual
assault hot line in March that would allow servicemen and women to
communicate by phone, online chat or text messages 24 hours a day.
"That's going to help us increase reporting," she said.
The Service Women's Action Network, which advocates for women in the
military, issued a statement criticizing the report for the absence
of policy changes.
Anuradha Bhagwati, a former Marine captain and now director of the
group, said in a written statement the report "signals a lack of any
real dedication by our military leadership to change an environment
that is weakening our military."
Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service
Academies and Service Academy Gender Relations Survey: http://www.sapr.mil