Sexual assault reports down by a third at Air Force Academy, but still highest among services

March 15, 2017 Updated: March 16, 2017 at 6:20 am
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Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA: United States Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel against blue sky - the building includes Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Buddhist areas - modernist architecture by Walter Netschof Skidmore, Owings and Merrill - photo by M.Torres

The number of reported sexual assaults at the Air Force Academy fell by a third last year, while the numbers climbed at the U.S. Military Academy and the Naval Academy.

Air Force topped its sister schools in the number of reports of sexual assault from cadets, with 32 in the academic year that ended last June, down from 49 a year earlier. Army had 26 reports, up from 17 a year earlier, and Navy had 28 reports, up from 25 the previous year.

"Cadets and midshipmen are our military's future leaders," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a statement. "Our readiness in combat tomorrow will depend in large part on their experiences today. We must foster an environment that rejects sexual assault and sexual harassment, notably during these formative years at our service academies."

The annual report on sexual assaults reported at service academies released Wednesday was compiled by the Pentagon under a congressional mandate arising from the 2003 AFA sexual assault scandal in which dozens of women said their claims of sexual assault were mishandled or ignored.

The Air Force Academy's female cadets reported an increase in the prevalence of "unwanted sexual contact" last year, with 11.2 percent of them reporting unsolicited touching, up from 9.7 percent.

Across all service academies, the Pentagon found that 12.2 percent of women reported unwanted sexual contact.

The Pentagon said academy women, though, are better off than their counterparts at civilian colleges where some surveys indicate 17 percent of female college students are subjected to unwanted sexual contact.

The report said 47 percent of Air Force women had experienced some form of sexual harassment and 24 percent reported gender discrimination. Men at the school claimed far lower rates, with 11 percent reporting sexual harassment and 3 percent reporting gender discrimination.

Across the three academies, 48 percent of women reported sexual harassment and 29 percent reported gender discrimination.

The Air Force Academy issued a statement Wednesday saying the report found the school was in compliance with Pentagon policies.

"The academy continues to work to eliminate sexual assault, while developing the best possible programs to assist those who have been affected by these crimes," the statement said.

The academy also noted that 38 percent of its reported sexual assaults last year "were incidents that occurred prior to military service." Nearly four of 10 reported sexual assaults happened before a cadet enrolled at the school, but were included in the yearly numbers because they were reported to the academy, the school's statement said.

The school praised those who report sexual assault.

"Until sexual assault is stopped, the Air Force wants victims to continue to come forward not only so crimes can be investigated, but so they can learn of the robust safety support network available to them," the academy said.

The Pentagon review lauded the Air Force for strengthening its sexual assault prevention efforts among athletes, including a new code of conduct implemented for sports teams in 2016.

The academy has also worked to educate cadets about ways social media can be used to hurt victims of sexual assault.

The report said Air Force leaders became alarmed after cadet comments on the college chat app YikYak represented "possible social retaliation against victims" in a pair of rape cases.

A separate 877-page report on a survey of cadet attitudes that accompanied the sexual assault report showed some problems remain at Air Force, with 93 percent of senior women at the school saying that high-profile sexual assault cases have made victims more reluctant to come forward after an attack.

The survey found that just 11 percent of Air Force women who experienced unwanted sexual contact reported the incident to leaders.

The Pentagon estimated that as many as 150 female Air Force cadets experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact.

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

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