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Defense Officials Address Sexual Assault Reporting Issues

By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 17, 2008 – Three years of data and study have helped Defense Department officials determine that unreported occurrences -- not frequency of assaults -- is the main issue concerning sexual assaults within the three U.S. service academies, the deputy director of the department’s sexual assault prevention and response program said.

“There’s a gap between the number of incidences … being reported to us anonymously on survey and the actual number of cadets coming forward and reporting those incidences to the authorities at the academies,” Air Force Lt. Col. Nathan Galbreath said. “And that gap is what we’re most concerned about.”

Across the campuses of the three service academies -- the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.; the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.; and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. -- only about 10 percent of sexual assault and harassment incidences were reported last year, according to the Defense Department’s Academic Program Year 2007-2008 Service Academy Gender Relation Survey released today.

Through anonymous surveys at each academy, Defense Department officials found that 9 percent of women and 1 percent of men experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact last year. The statistics are based off responses from all women cadets and midshipmen and one-third of the men, for a total of 74 percent of the student bodies.

Of the more than 300 incidences, only 34 were reported, which is down from 40 in 2006 and 42 in 2005. Of the 34, 18 were unrestricted reports, and 16 were restricted, a reporting option that allows the victim to receive care without launching a formal investigation.

“We think that reporting that crime is really the first step in restoring cadet resilience, not only as a future leader in the military, but also as an individual to help them cope with the stresses of military life,” Galbreath said.

Coming forward gives victims access to “top-notch care” provided at the academies, with counseling and support through the military justice system, if that’s what’s required, Galbreath said.

“We have some of the best care possible in the world just waiting for them,” he added. “We can deliver that care confidentially if they like, so [victims] should not be scared in coming forward … so they can get back on their feet again and get out and become a real effective war fighter.”

Still, getting victims to come forward is a hurdle. The perceived stigma of being a sexual assault victim is one of the bigger reasons so few incidences are reported, Galbreath said.

“They don’t want to be the person that causes disruption in the unit,” he explained. “And that’s a really hard place for a sexual assault victim to be in, but we want them to know they should not be ashamed to come forward and get assistance.”

Along with making care available, each academy has been successful in establishing prevention programs, Galbreath said. Almost every student has received some form of awareness and prevention training; 90 percent said the training has made their environments safer and sexual assault less of a problem, he noted.

Galbreath said he’s encouraged by the prevention program and the survey’s findings. Over the next year, prevention program officials hope to develop new training initiatives and eventually have the service academies apply the changes into their curriculums, he said.

Influencing victims to come forward -- getting the reported numbers to closer reflect the anonymous surveys -- is a long-term initiative, he said, and it may take as long as six to 10 years.

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