The Air Force Academy’s 41 sexual assault reports put it atop the nation’s other major military schools in the dubious ranking, but a Pentagon report found it was making strides to combat sexual harassment and violence in the ranks.
The report showed sexual assault reports tumbling at West Point during the academic year that ended in May from 57 down to 30, while the Air Force Academy and Naval Academy both increased by one assault claim - 40 to 41 for the Air Force and 33 to 34 for Navy.
“Even one incident of sexual assault or sexual harassment at our academy is unacceptable,” academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark said in a statement. “Any prevalence of these degrading behaviors is corrosive to the high standards we hold ourselves to as leaders, the core values of our Air and Space Forces, and our Academy. We are not where we need to be, and we must get this right. The strength of our Air and Space Forces depends on eradicating sexual assault."
The academies continue to make meaningful progress in developing and executing programs focused on preventing sexual assault and sexual harassment on their campuses,” Virginia Penrod, acting Defense undersecretary for personnel and readiness, said in a letter to Congress that accompanied the report. “Each academy reports taking steps to improve student culture, encourage sexual assault and sexual harassment reporting, and support service members who report sexual assault or sexual harassment.”
Sexual assault reports at the Air Force Academy have climbed the last two academic years from a low of 23 in 2018. Assault reports remain down from the academy's all-time high of 51 in 2011.
In the the most recent year, 26 cadets filed “unrestricted” reports, which can lead to criminal investigations, and 15 filed “restricted” reports, which allow the victim to get help but don’t lead to a criminal investigation.
Sexual harassment claims are down at all three service academies from the previous year.
Air Force is down from 6 to 5 year-over-year, while Navy went from 4 to 3 and West Point decreased from 7 to 4.
The academy last year changed policies to encourage cadets to report sexual assault. The "safe to report" regulation gives cadets who report sexual assault amnesty for minor misconduct infractions.
The past school year at Air Force was cut short for 3,000 cadets who were sent home in March at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. It was unclear how2 that change impacted reporting numbers.
Air Force also took steps to educate its newest cadets on sexual assault prevention before they arrived at the academy with a pair of at-home education programs.
“While these two programs have not been formally codified in written policy yet, they represent the first ever efforts to reach appointees with prevention and culture of civility messaging prior to their arrival,” the Air Force Academy wrote in its annual self-assessment, which accompanied the report.