by Ryan T. Elliott
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America/Oceania
ANNAPOLIS, United States — Sexual assault is one of the most abhorrent violations to human rights, and according to a report released earlier this week by the Pentagon, the number of reported sexual assaults at the nation’s leading military academies rose nearly 60 percent from the previous year.
The report entitled “Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies” was produced by the Defense Department as part of the 2007 John Warner National Defense Authorization Act. According to CNN, site visits were conducted at the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy. The site visits looked at policies, training and procedures, and focus groups were held with cadets and midshipmen.
The major finding of the report conducted by the Department of Defense was that there were 65 reports of sexual assault involving cadets and midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy. This number of reported sexual assaults is a marked increase from 41 reports in the previous year. The Air Force Academy saw the largest jump in reports of sexual assault with 33 reports in the latest academic year; an increase from 20 in the previous year. The Naval Academy had 22 reported incidents, compared to 11 the prior year. West Point reported the same number in both years, 10 in each year.
According to the Washington Post, the Pentagon was unable to pinpoint any exact cause for the increase in sexual assaults at the academies. One possible explanation, however, may be the Defense Department’s encouragement for victims to report sexual assault and abuses. While West Point did not return the Washington Post’s call seeking comment, other academy officials told the Washington Post that they believe the increase in reporting indicates a positive step in making cadets and midshipmen feel more comfortable about reporting incidents.
The Service Women’s Action Network, a national human rights organization founded by women veterans, was slightly more critical of the increase in sexual abuse reports among the nation’s leading military academies. Greg Jacob, a policy director at the Service Women’s Action Network, informed the Washington Post that this report underscored the noncompliance on the part of the academies with Pentagon’s policy. In a statement to the Washington Post, Jacob noted that “[e]nding the widespread issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military starts by ending it at the service academies.”
In response to the increased sexual assaults at military academies, the Pentagon adopted two new policies. The policies aim to support victims, and remove sexual assault and harassment from the military, starting with its academies. The first policy permits victims to request a transfer from their unit after they have filed a report alleging sexual harassment or assault. Further, the Pentagon said that service members must receive a response from the unit commander within three days. In the event a victims request for a transfer is denied, then the victim is entitled to review of the request’s denial within three days.
The other policy mandates that the academies hold sexual assault records for 50 years in unrestricted cases, and five years in restricted cases. According to the Washington Post, the Defense Department said this new holding period for records will “ensure victims have extended access to documents related to the sexual assault.” In short, it will provide victims with access to documents related to sexual assault for a longer period of time.
For more information, please see:
Department of Defense–Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies Academic Program Year 2010-2011 — 27 December 2011
Defense Department–DOD Releases Sexual Assault Report, Announces New Policies–27 December 2011
The Washington Post — Pentagon: Reported Sexual Assaults Rise at 3 Main Military Academies in Latest Academic Year–27 December 2011
Businessweek —Pentagon Says Sexual Assault Reports Rose 58% at Service Schools –27 December 2011
CNN–Sexual Assaults Reported on Rise at U.S. Military Academies–27 December 2011
ABC Radio Online —Sexual Assault Reports Rise at Military Academies –27 December 2011
Time–Sexual-Harassment Reports at Military Academies Jump 59%–27 December 2011