Sexual assault reports at the U.S. Air Force Academy soared this year and are nearly double the number of other U.S. military academies. But Air Force officials say it is unclear whether the increase shows programs designed to battle sexual violence are a failure or a success.
Assaults at the three military academies rose 64 percent in the 2009-10 academic year compared with the previous year, the Defense Department said Wednesday. But increases at West Point and the Naval Academy were modest compared to the Air Force Academy.
Reports of sexual assault at the Air Force Academy rose from eight in 2008-09 to 20 in 2009-10 — a 150 percent increase. 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.
But Col. Reni Renner, the Air Force Academy’s vice-commandant for climate and culture, said sexual assaults are so vastly under reported — only 10 percent get reported according to a Pentagon estimate — that a big rise in reports of assault may only mean that, through education efforts, more victims are coming forward.
“It is difficult to look at the numbers and say whether they are good or bad,” she said.
The statistics are in the Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies, issued by the Defense Department annually. The report calls the increase in reported assaults “concerning.”
Sexual assaults at the Air Force Academy have been officially reported to the Defense Department since 2006, and every year hovered around 20 assaults until 2008-09, when they plummeted before returning to 20 this year.
“We think [2008-09] may be a statistical outlier,” said Renner, who has been in her job six months. “Based on what I’ve seen, I don’t have a sense that it is a bigger problem than it has been historically.”
The academy created a number of programs after 2003, when cadets publicly asserted that sexual assault and harassment were rampant, but often ignored by the academy’s leadership.
Cadets now go through a number of trainings annually with titles such as “May I kiss you” and “Drunk sex or date rape?” Cadets also are briefed on the anonymous treatment resources the academy provides. The Air Force recently added what it calls Bystander Intervention Training to teach cadets how to stop potential sexual assaults.
Renner said a survey included in the report bolsters her hunch that the rise is due to cadets being more willing to come forward. It said almost half of cadets found the academy’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office, which oversees education and treatment, “very valuable,” while only three percent did not find it valuable at all.
Sexual assault report: http://www.sapr.mil