The US Air Force Academy mismanaged its sexual assault prevention and response program during the 2017 academic year and failed to comply with the military’s victim assistance and advocacy policy, according to the Department of Defense’s annual assessment of service academies released Wednesday.
Overall, the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office’s assessment found that reporting of sexual assault at the service academies increased in the 2017 school year – documenting a total of 112 reports of sexual assault, up from 86 reports received in the prior year.
“Most of the reporting increase occurred at the US Military Academy following a change in reporting policy and the relocation of its victim assistance office,” according to the DOD.
“We are absolutely committed to making the Academies safe,” Robert Wilkie, under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said in a press release. “It is imperative that these future officers understand how eliminating sexual harassment and assault advances our ability to protect the nation.”
Based on feedback from focus groups involving 188 cadets/midshipmen, and 107 faculty, and staff participants, the report “revealed that most cadets and midshipmen knew how to report and obtain support should they experience a sexual assault.”
But while it concluded that the US Military Academy and US Naval Academy were in compliance with Pentagon policies that “govern sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention, victim assistance and advocacy, investigation, accountability, and assessment,” the report determined that the mismanagement of victim response programs at the Air Force Academy did not meet that standard.
“Sexual assault prevention and response program mismanagement at the US Air Force Academy put it out of compliance with Department and Air Force victim assistance and advocacy policy,” the report said. “Given this discrepancy, the Air Force Academy is in partial compliance overall.”
Allegations late in the academic year prompted a commander directed investigation at the Air Force Academy which disclosed “significant evidence of mismanagement and unprofessionalism that negatively impacted victim advocacy and assistance rendered to a number of cadets,” the assessment stated.
“While the Air Force Academy investigated and took steps to correct these problems, greater oversight of response programs and personnel is required at all three Academies,” it said.
The DOD report did not detail the specific nature of these problems.
Responding to the report, the Air Force deputy director of public affairs, Capt. Matthew Chism, said in a statement: “As expected as a result of the Academy’s finding and reporting misconduct on the part of individuals within its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office, the Academy was found not in compliance in one of the five goals assessed in the report, the goal of victim assistance and advocacy.”
“We are confident that we have addressed the issues in the SAPR 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,” he added.
The report also noted that compliance with policy does not guarantee “effective programs and practices” and identified several actions for each academy to better address the issue.
- Provide cadets and midshipmen with prevention skills and education that are both relevant to their current circumstances and their future roles as officers.
- Enhance preparation of military officers and senior enlisted leaders so they may more effectively promote and teach about climates of dignity and respect.
- Enact an oversight process for the assistance rendered by Sexual Assault Response Coordinators and Victim Advocates.
- Operationalize the Department’s sexual harassment definition for the academy environment and expand services and support for cadets and midshipmen who desire to address it.
- Establish or enhance a centralized data assessment and reporting resource.
“Reducing the number of future sexual assault victims requires new approaches and resources above what are currently provided for response programs,” the report said, adding that service academies are unique environments that require “programs tailored to their specific circumstances.”
“New initiatives require a sustained effort and a long-term view to give such efforts the best chances for success over time,” the report concluded.
CNN’s Barbara Starr contributed to this report