A new report from the Department of Defense (DoD) shows an increase in the number of U.S. military academy students reporting incidents of sexual assault and harassment. According to the DoD’s “Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies, Academic Program Year 2017-2018,” 747 students at U.S. service academies reported being the victim of a sexual incident. The majority of the reports are from cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
A significant portion of the reports are related to sexual harassment, but at least 117 students reported being sexually assaulted, according to the DoD. This number is higher than the previous school year; however, DoD officials maintain they are confident this will improve with current programs aimed at curbing sexual misconduct. Still, a report from CBS indicated that half of all female students and more than 15 percent of male students reported being victimized.
“Our commitment is absolute,” said Dr. Elizabeth Van Winkle, executive director of the Office of Force Resiliency for the Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness. “While we are disheartened that the strategies we have employed have not achieved the results we had intended, we are not deterred.”
The new strategies include initiatives to make reporting incidents simpler for victims and to create a culture of “respect and discipline.” The department also plans to bring in more tech resources as well as “on-site assistance.” Still, several politicians have begun to criticize the department’s response.
“There is a cultural rot. It’s not just a few bad apples,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel. “I think some heads have to roll. If, all of a sudden, these cadets are going to be kicked out and their families are going to be expected to pay $100,000 in tuition, maybe behavior will change.”
Former students also claim the DoD isn’t doing enough to curb these incidents and that, when students do report being sexually abused, leadership often responds with retaliation aimed at the victim. According to CBS, at least a dozen Air Force cadets said their command retaliated against them after reporting. As for the accused, across all three academies, four people were convicted of sexual assault.
“Accountability is the missing element in all of this,” said Don Christensen, the president of Protect Our Defenders. “Each one of the academies has a three star who oversees it. They’re literally the only person who can prosecute the case. They simply do not send enough people to court.”