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Survey: Reports of sexual assaults up 64 percent at academies

• An earlier version of this story suggested that the 41 reported cases of sexual assault at the service academies may account for fewer than 10 percent of the actual number of total “sexual assaults.” It should have said that the 41 reported cases may account for fewer than 10 percent of the total incidents of “unwanted sexual contact,” a broader category of misconduct that includes sexual assault.

ARLINGTON, Va. — Sexual assaults reported at the nation’s service academies rose 64 percent in the last school year, ending a three year-run of declining incidents, according to a Pentagon survey.

Many more incidents, however, likely went unreported, survey officials added.

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For the academic year beginning June 2009 through May 2010, there were 41 reported sexual assaults, compared with 25 in the previous year, according to the annual survey released Wednesday. Sexual assault is defined as “intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, threats, intimidation, abuse of authority, or when the victim does not or cannot consent.”

But the survey also found 13 percent of women and 2 percent of men said they experienced some form of “unwanted sexual contact” — which covers everything from inappropriate touching to sexual assault — figures that could mean more than 520 incidents, survey officials estimated.

Additionally, 56 percent of women and 12 percent of men reported experiencing “sexual harassment.”

Reported assaults were up 122 percent at the Air Force Academy, jumping from nine to 20 this year. There were 10 such incidents at the U.S. Military Academy and 11 at the U.S. Naval Academy.

The Pentagon cautioned that the number of reported cases may not reflect an actual increase of assaults from the previous year. Rather, it could indicate a higher rate of reporting by students. There was a higher response rate — between 77 and 88 percent at the three academies — to the annual survey than in previous years.

Nevertheless, sex crimes and misbehavior remain a concern for military officials.

“Sexual harassment and assault are incompatible with our core values, degrade mission readiness and reflect poorly on military culture,” Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said in a statement.

The DOD conducted the survey last spring, and it covered topics such as unwanted sexual contact and harassment, training and identifying unwanted sexual and gender-related behaviors. The DOD said its speaker series and classroom instruction focused on better education and training, and encouraging victims to report incidents.

Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat who has pushed DOD to stem sexual assaults in the military for years, addressed the statistics in a statement Wednesday.

“Higher reporting statistics mean there are fewer excuses to protect the good old boys at the expense of young women’s lives and careers,” Harman said.

But most students remain silent, officials found. The top reasons for not reporting sexual contact were because students said they took care of the problem themselves or wanted to avoid being the subject of gossip.

Roughly 80 percent of women at all academies, and a slightly smaller percentage of men, said they did not report sexual harassment at all because they “thought it was not important enough to report.”

The study prompted one women veteran’s group to call for reformation of DOD policies and an overhaul of academy culture it said lets cadets and midshipmen off the hook more easily than civilians.

“The reality today is that military academies are insular environments where sexual predators face little risk of prosecution, and survivors have little hope for institutional protections,” said Anuradha Bhagwati, executive director of Service Women’s Action Network and a former Marine Corps officer.

On Monday, that group and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in New Haven, Conn., against the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs for refusing to reveal sexual assault records publicly.

“The known statistics on military sexual trauma suggest that sexual abuse is all too prevalent in our military,” said Sandra Park, an ACLU attorney. “The truth about the extent of this abuse and what has been done to address it must be made known.”

baronk@stripes.osd.mil

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