By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 21, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta called for “a strong and immediate response,” after a Defense Department report released today indicated that sexual harassment and assault remain persistent problems at the nation’s military academies.
Army Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton, the director of DOD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, told reporters the Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies showed that reports of sexual assaults continued to rise this year. The report combines self-assessments by each academy with a biennial anonymous survey of cadets and midshipmen.
“Overall, the number of sexual assault reports at the academies has been on an upward trend since academic year 2008,” Patton said. According to the report, 80 cases of sexual assault were reported during the 2011-2012 academic year, compared to 65 in 2010-2011, a 23 percent increase.
“Every one of these reports represents somebody being victimized and traumatized by a terrible crime,” Patton said.
Because sex crimes are underreported to authorities, he said, SAPRO uses data from the biennial Service Academy Gender Relations Survey to measure prevalence of sexual assault and harassment.
The survey is anonymous, allowing cadets and midshipmen to report instances of unwanted sexual contact -- including rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy, attempts at those crimes, and aggravated and abusive sexual contact -- without exposing their identities. According to the report, the 2012 survey reveals that the prevalence of unwanted sexual contact at the academies remains statistically unchanged since 2010, the last year the survey was conducted.
The survey also showed a significant decrease in the rate of sexual harassment of women at the Air Force Academy and men at the Naval Academy. There were no other statistically significant changes in the prevalence of sexual harassment at the academies.
“Eliminating sexual harassment is critical to preventing sexual assault,” Patton said, noting that survey responses show a strong correlation between victims of sexual assault and harassment.
“We know by the prevalence survey that the rate of occurrence [of sexual assault] is greater than the number of reports we see,” Patton said.
But, because the anonymous survey reveals the prevalence of sexual assault at the academies to be relatively stable, the increase in sexual assault reports is indicative of growth in victims’ confidence in the reporting system, Patton said. In terms of victim care, he said, every report is a step in the right direction.
Both Panetta and Patton expressed concern that greater progress hasn’t been made in preventing sex crimes among academy cadets and midshipmen.
“These crimes and abhorrent behavior are incompatible with the core values we require of our armed forces’ future officers,” Panetta said.
“The solution to this problem is creating a non-permissive environment where sexual harassment, sexist behavior, stalking and these types of behaviors are not condoned, tolerated or ignored,” Patton said. Sexual assault is a crime against a human being, he added, irrespective of gender or sexual orientation.
Panetta directed service chiefs to review their respective academies’ programs and identify “new ways to advance a climate of dignity and respect and … more completely [integrate] sexual assault and harassment prevention into the full spectrum of academy life and learning.”
“We have to all be committed to ensuring that prevention efforts are strong, victims are getting the care they need, offenders are held appropriately accountable and that proper support is offered to cadets and midshipmen as we all take aim at providing an academy environment that’s free from sexual harassment and free from sexual assault,” Patton said.