January 09, 2006

Sexual misconduct reports are highest at West Point
Survey numbers surpass other service academies

By Kelly Kennedy
Times staff writer

After several years of serving as the model military academy, West Point has crept ahead
of the Naval Academy and the scandal-plagued Air Force Academy in numbers of cadets
who say they have been sexually assaulted or harassed.
During the 2004-2005 school year, 6 percent of West Point women who took a Defense
Manpower Data Survey said they had been sexually assaulted, 62 percent said they had
been sexually harassed and 96 percent said they had experienced sexist behavior. The
survey defined assault as rape or unwanted touching or fondling.

At the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., 4 percent of women surveyed said
they had been sexually assaulted, 49 percent said they had been sexually harassed and 82
percent said they had dealt with sexist behavior.

At the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., 5 percent of women surveyed said they had
been sexually assaulted, 59 percent said they faced sexual harassment and 93 percent said
they had been the object of sexist behavior.

The survey is part of a congressionally mandated plan to deal with sexual assault and
harassment at U.S. military academies following a scandal that erupted in 2003 at the Air
Force Academy after scores of female cadets reported being the victims of sexual
misconduct and a leadership that was either unresponsive or ostracizing.

That experience and a series of initiatives to correct the problem help explain how the Air
Force fared best in the latest survey, said a Pentagon spokesman. “The Air Force was
forced by circumstances to react to it before the other academies,� said Roger Kaplan,
spokesman for the Department of Defense Joint Task Force Sexual Assault Prevention
and Response team. “I’m pretty confident that [if] you give Annapolis and West
Point another year, and they’ll be where the Air Force Academy is now.�

But at West Point, spokesman Lt. Col. Kent Cassella said the school has had sexual
harassment education programs in place since 2002 and that the superintendent conducted
a survey that year to look at sexual assault and harassment issues. This is the first time the
numbers have gone up, Cassella said.

“Our constant goal is to eliminate this illegal behavior and provide a safe and healthy
environment for our cadets,� he said.

On March 18, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced a new Defense
Department-wide policy allowing victims of sexual assault to confidentially seek counseling
and medical care. The academies, including West Point, also implemented sexual response
coordinators and victims’ advocates within the past year.

Kaplan said the new policies could have led to an increase in reporting assault and
harassment.

Congress ordered five annual surveys as part of a series of steps taken after dozens of
women reported rapes at the Air Force Academy in 2003. In the latest survey, the second
of a series of mandated reports, 2,049 women and 3,287 men filled out a pen-and-paper
survey at the three academies. At West Point, 15 percent of the 4,000 students are women.

Among the key findings of the survey for West Point cadets:

• 97 percent said the assaults were by fellow cadets.

• 74 percent of sexual assaults of women occurred on the installation.

• 97 percent of sexual assaults on women were perpetrated by men, and 3 percent
were by women.

• 97 percent of offenders against women were other cadets; 3 percent were faculty
members.

• 9 percent of assaulted women said they were assaulted by more than one person at a
time.

• 7 percent of women who reported an incident said they experienced retaliation from
an authority.

• 39 percent of women who reported an incident said they faced other repercussions.

• 34 percent of assaulted women said alcohol or drugs were involved.

• 20 percent of assaulted women said they were so intoxicated they could not consent.

• 29 percent of assaulted women said the offender was intoxicated.

• 29 percent of assaulted women said the offender used force to make them consent.

Authors said that because of changes made to the survey, the findings could not be
compared against previous results.

That’s one of the issues that Anita Sanchez, director of communications for the Miles
Foundation, an organization that promotes awareness about sexual assault and harassment
within the military, said worries her about the methodologies of the survey. when survey
questions change from year to year, it’s impossible to compare the numbers or have a
benchmark to see how the academies are doing, she said.

“We need to be able to look at apples versus apples — not just with the academies,
but also with civilian college campuses,� she said.

Sanchez said she was not surprised to see that 64 percent of West Point women believed
the educational programs were slightly or not at all effective in preventing sexual
harassment, because several civilian studies have shown that such training has little impact.
For it to work, she said, students need the training at least quarterly.

Cassella, however, said that cadets surveyed correctly identified sexual assault and
harassment, as well as reporting procedures, as taught in training.

West Point received a copy of the survey Dec. 24, and Cassella said his command plans
to look at it further and then decide what action to make.

“Our ultimate goals is for our cadets to think, four years from now, how do you prevent
these things for your soldiers?� he said. “This is one of those issues we know we
always have to focus on.�