Sex assault reports involving Air Force Academy cadets increased by about 50 percent over the previous academic year, accounting for the majority of reported assaults across the nation’s three military academies, according to a Defense Department report issued Friday.
For the third-straight year, the academy registered the highest number of sex assault reports at the military’s service academies — a trend that was greeted Friday with weary optimism by Air Force Academy officials.
The increased reports show the academy’s outreach programs are working, academy officials said. But a biennial survey of cadets also found that the prevalence of unwanted sexual contact at the academy appeared to hold steady — a troubling fact for which academy officials say there are few immediate answers.
“We’re not there yet; I think we’re still in the educate and take care of victims (stage),” said Col. Col. Stella Renner, the academy’s vice commandant of culture and climate. “And as we get more of those reports in, that’s what gives us to the tools we need to then hopefully in the future, start to see some difference in the prevalence of sexual assault.”
The statistics come as Air Force prosecutors continue to litigate and investigate several sex assault cases, including two involving football players who were left off of the team’s roster earlier this year.
Overall, sex assault reports at the military’s service academies increased 23 percent over the 2011-12 school year, topping out at 80. Of those, 52 reports involved cadets at the Air Force Academy, up from 33 from the 2010-11 school year.
Those statistics came with a caveat.
Twelve of the academy’s reports involved reported assaults that happened prior to the cadet arriving at the academy. Four more were secretive “restricted” reports from the 2010-11 school year that were brought to the attention of law enforcement officials a year later, the report said.
Three out of five cases at the academy were filed as restricted reports — a category meant to offer victims a way to get counseling and medical treatment without spurring a criminal investigation.
Academy officials held off discussing new programs specifically aimed at reducing sex assaults until they receive raw data from the survey.
One program planned for next fall, called “bystander intervention,” will try to improve sophomores’ skills to intervene in a host of situations, including suspected sexual assaults or drunken driving.
Officials said their priority is continuing to educate students on reporting sex assaults.
“The people feel they will be heard and believed,” said Teresa Beasley, the academy’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, on the increased reports. “Victims, one of their greatest fears is that they won’t be believed.”
“If they see people being held accountable and the victims being believed, I think that’s a very strong message,” she added. “Bottom line, they feel like there will be some accountability.”
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