Improvements Recommended in Academies' Sexual-Assault Prevention
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 25, 2005 The U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis have been making progress in the prevention and handling of sexual assault and violence, but there are key issues that need to be addressed, a defense task force report released today said.
At a Pentagon news briefing, the co-chairs of the Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Service Academies explained the report's findings.
The two general areas addressed are confidentiality of reporting and service academy culture, said Navy Vice Adm. Gerald L. Hoewing, co-chair of the task force. Within these areas, the task force's recommendations range from statutory changes to safety improvements in living areas, he said.
The report found that both service academies have been actively addressing the issues of sexual harassment and violence, said Delilah Rumburg, co-chair of the task force and executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.
"I was very impressed with the way they were moving forward to strengthen their programs," she said.
Progress was being made, Rumburg said, but there was confusion among the cadets, midshipmen and leaders about confidentiality levels and the proper reporting procedures. To clear up any problems, the report recommends that Congress create a statutory privilege-protecting communications made by sexual assault victims to healthcare providers and victim advocates, she said. This would give servicemembers in the military academies the same protection that most states now have for civilians, she explained.
There are several factors within service academy culture that hinder the prevention and reporting of sexual assault and harassment, Hoewing said. Peer loyalty, which is taught at the academies and is essential to military service, can become a hindrance when cadets are faced with the choice of reporting their classmates, he said.
"It's good, unless it goes to the point where peer loyalty overrides inserting themselves to stop abhorrent behavior," he said.
To counter this, the report concluded that cadets and midshipmen must assume more responsibility for prevention of sexual assault by intervening, confronting and correcting each other.
Only 15 to 17 percent of all cadets and midshipmen are women, Hoewing noted. Because of this and the exclusion of females from combat specialties and their differing physical standards, there is a tendency in the academy communities not to regard them as highly as men, he explained. To fix this problem, the task force recommended that more female officers and noncommissioned officers be put in leadership positions to serve as role models.
The report also recommends that more female cadets and midshipmen be admitted, and that all leadership, staff and faculty model behaviors that reflect and positively convey the value of women in the military, Hoewing said.
Education and training are key factors in all the report's recommendations, Rumburg said. Everyone at the academies needs to understand what resources are available and where they are, what kind of confidentiality privileges they have, and where victims can go for support, she said.
To better protect victims' rights, the academies should implement the new Department of Defense Sexual Assault Response policy, Rumburg said, and make victim-witness coordinators available when instances of sexual assault occur.
The academies have made strong efforts to develop training and education about sexual assault and harassment, but these programs are often poorly designed and inconveniently scheduled, Rumburg said. The report recommends that sexual harassment classes be worked into the graded curriculum and taught by qualified faculty members. Classes like these would help prepare the students for their future as military leaders, she said.
"We're building leaders here and it needs to be a leadership issue," she said. "So it should be integrated throughout the course curriculum over the four years."
All the recommendations made by the task force will be reviewed and evaluated by DoD officials, said Dr. David S. C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. DoD will then present its analysis to the Senate and House Armed Services committees for action, he said.
"The department is determined to continue our aggressive efforts to halt sexual misconduct of any sort by refining and improving our policies and procedures and applying them to the field force," he said.
This report was done to fulfill a provision in the fiscal 2004 National Defense Authorization Act. A panel established by Congress looked into issues at the Air Force Academy in 2003, and Congress became concerned that similar problems could occur at the other service academies under DoD. The task force spent 10 months collecting data through interviews, visits to the schools and review of documents.