Updated: December 27, 2011 at 12:00 am
The number of reported sexual assaults at the Air Force Academy spiked during the 2010-2011 academic year, a Pentagon report released Tuesday shows.
The Academy saw 33 reported assaults, up from 20 in the prior year and eight two years ago. The Pentagon report praises academy programs to prevent sexual assault and attributes at least some of the increase in reports to cadets being more comfortable with reporting them.
"However, the Department lacks the capability to identify all the factors that contributed to the increase in reports," the report, made annually to congressional military oversight committees said. "Nevertheless, bringing more victims forward to report is consistent with the Department’s strategic priority."
Reports of sexual assault were up overall at the three Pentagon-run military academies, with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy and Air Force reporting a combined total of 65. That was compared with 41 the prior year.
Of those, West Point recorded 10 sexual assault reports and the Naval Academy saw 22.
"Although one sexual assault is too many, the overall increase in victim reporting behavior since 2008-09 is encouraging, as it is consistent with the Department’s goal to bring more victims forward to report the crime," the report said. "When Service members report sexual assaults, the Department is better positioned to provide resources to victims and hold those who commit sexual assault accountable, as appropriate."
The sexual assault reports include reported rapes, rape attempts and unwanted sexual contact.
The Air Force Academy has fought to prevent sexual assaults and encourage sexual assault reporting since a scandal erupted on the campus nine years ago, with women claiming their reports of sexual assault were mishandled or ignored.
The scandal led to new programs at the academy to help sexual assault victims and prevent the crime. The scandal also led to increased congressional scrutiny on sexual assaults at all defense Department service academies.
The Air Force Academy said the number of reported sexual assaults for the school include five that occurred before the cadets involved enrolled in the academy. The total of 33 is a count of victims at the academy, but the several of the alleged assaults involve attackers not affiliated with the school, said Col. Reni Renner , the academy's vice commandant for culture and climate.
Renner sees the increasing number of reports as an indication of trust that cadets will get help if they come forward. The Pengaton said in its report that rape has been known for decades as the nation's most under-reported crime.
She said the reports of sexual assault will likely keep going up as confidence grows.
"It's going up and that's something we anticipate happening for quite a while," she said.
Meanwhile, the academies are also bracing for an increase in the number of same-sex sexual assault reports. In September, the Pentagon removed restrictions that prevent homosexuality in uniform.
With those restrictions lifted, Renner said, gay cadets are could be likely to come forward with reports of sexual assault. The academy will also have to address same-sex sexual assault in training.
"As we evolve and go forward we're constantly looking for those areas where we can improve our training," Renner said.