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Air Force Academy unveils plan to rebuild scandal-ridden sexual assault office

Air Force Academy cadets pass in review after Brig. Gen. Kristin Goodwin assumed command of the AFA cadet wing at a ceremony at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., on May 15, 2017.

MARK REIS/THE GAZETTE/TNS

By TOM ROEDER | The Gazette (Tribune News Service) | Published: December 16, 2017

The Air Force Academy is rebuilding its scandal-rocked Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office with a special emphasis on preventing future attacks, the school's top general told The Gazette.

The office, which was all but disbanded last summer ahead of an investigation that found its director "derelict" in caring for victims, will have more workers who will be required to have better qualifications, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria said. Two of the extra workers will be assigned to a new wing aimed at violence prevention.

"The more we can do to get to the left of the assaults, the better," Silveria said, using a military term for stopping something before it happens.

The problems in the office were detailed last month in a 560-page report released to The Gazette under the Freedom of Information Act. Office-infighting and a lurid rumor mill swirled in an office amid what investigators called a toxic environment fostered by manager Theresa Beasley. Investigators also found that the office under Beasley failed to provide adequate care for sexual assault victims.

Silveria, who arrived at the academy in August, inherited the rebuilding job.

"We have standards, she didn't meet those standards," he said of Beasley.

Beasley was a key source in a series of CBS News reports over the past week detailing the academy's alleged failures with sexual assault victims. Silveria didn't agree with every detail of the report, but flew to New York to address the issue on camera.

The general said with the rise of the #metoo movement on social media and sexual assault scandals striking entertainers, media personalities and politicians, it's something he must address.

"I'm happy to get out and continue the conversation on this topic," he said.

Sexual assault is a big issue for the Air Force, where cadets reported 45 incidents last year. After the collapse of the sexual assault response office, the academy moved quickly to bring in victim advocates from Air Force bases around the Pikes Peak region. The school says victims experienced no interruption in care.

From commanding officers trained in counseling to chaplains, cadets also have plenty of options for help after an assault.

"They have a whole network," Silveria said.

But fixing the office designed to help sexual assault victims is a top concern.

The first step, Silveria said, is getting the right people to run the office and care for victims.

"It's a special kind of person who can provide that care," Silveria said.

Academy leaders worked with civilian hiring officials to increase standards required for work in the office. A new boss with more qualifications is planned, too.

It doesn't stop there.

"The other part is the organization itself," he said. Silveria has moved to split the sexual assault office into two organizations - one focused solely on cadets and the other caring for the rest of the campus.

The part aimed at cadets is changing, too. Under the old structure, workers in the office were responsible for victim care and a string of educational programs aimed at sexual assault prevention.

Now, much of the teaching load will land on two "intervention" experts trained to get the message across.

Silveria said he's also keeping a close eye on programs aimed at keeping attackers accountable and will continue to monitor those charges with running the sexual assault office.

"Accountability is not just for perpetrators, it's accountability for the office, too," he said.

As he looks at changes to the school's sexual assault programs, Silveria said he's seeking help from those with the deepest wounds.

"I want to hear from victims. I want to hear victims," he said.

He also bristles at any suggestion that the academy hasn't pursued justice for sexual assault victims.

He pointed to more than two dozen convictions and disciplinary actions tied to sexual assaults and other incidents in the recent past.

"The suggestion that the academy hasn't held people accountable is completely false," he said.

©2017 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
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