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Pentagon: Air Force Academy out of compliance on sexual assault

Noon meal formation on Nov. 16, 2017 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

CHARLES RIVEZZO/U.S. AIR FORCE

By TOM ROEDER | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) | Published: February 8, 2018

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Tribune News Service) — Mismanagement of the Air Force Academy's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office has put the school out of compliance with Defense Department policies, a Pentagon report released Wednesday said.

The problems, revealed late last year in a 560-page report released to The Gazette under the Freedom of Information Act, included infighting, mishandled cases, questionable record keeping and alleged office romances.

"A commander-directed investigation disclosed significant evidence of mismanagement and unprofessionalism that negatively impacted victim advocacy and assistance rendered to a number of cadets," the Pentagon said in its latest report, which compares sexual assault programs across the military's three major service academies.

The academy was the only program found to be operating outside Defense Department guidelines, but for the first time in a decade saw its sexual assault numbers fall below its peers.

Air Force had 33 reported sexual assaults, with Army tallying 50 - nearly doubling its numbers in a year. Navy had 29 reported sexual assaults.

"We are absolutely committed to making the academies safe," said Robert Wilkie, the Defense Department's undersecretary for personnel and readiness. "It is imperative that these future officers understand how eliminating sexual harassment and assault advances our ability to protect the nation."

The report found that programs at the Naval Academy in Maryland and the U.S. Military Academy in New York complied with Pentagon policies, with Air Force falling short because of chaos in its prevention office.

Overall, reported sexual assaults at the three academy showed a sharp increase, to 112 for the year from 86 in the prior year.

The Defense Department attributed the increase to changes at West Point.

"Most of the reporting increase occurred at the U.S. Military Academy following a change in reporting policy and the relocation of its victim assistance office," the report said.

Investigators praised Air Force sexual assault prevention programs in the report, but found the school hadn't properly cared for victims.

Problems arose last summer in the Air Force sexual assault response office after leaders suspended its director Theresa Beasley and other workers. Last fall, the academy released its report that found the office had been "derelict" in victim care, with some victims ignored.

The new report acknowledged the problems, but found the academy had taken appropriate steps to address its woes.

"The department saw substantive evidence that the superintendent and the leadership team were fully engaged in making sexual assault prevention and response a priority for the academy," the report said.

The academy on Wednesday said it is in the final stages of hiring new workers in its sexual assault office.

"This includes a new program manager, two sexual assault response coordinators, three victim advocates and two violence prevention integrators," the academy said in an emailed statement.

The hirings, the academy said, are the last step in addressing the troubles of 2017.

"We are confident that we have addressed the issues in the ... office at the academy and will continue to scrutinize our efforts and remain transparent as we strive to develop a culture of dignity and respect at the academy," the statement said.

©2018 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
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