By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 10, 2014 – While all three U.S. service academies are compliant with Defense Department sexual assault prevention and response policies, more needs to be done to change the culture that allows the crime to continue, the new chief of DOD’s Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Office said today.
Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Snow briefed Pentagon reporters on the conclusions of the Annual Report to Congress on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies. Air Force Col. Alan Metzler, deputy SAPRO director; Nate Galbreath, a SAPRO official; and Elizabeth P. Van Winkle of the Defense Manpower Data Center accompanied Snow.
“Sexual assault is a crime and has no place at the academies, just as it has no place in our own forces,” Snow said. “The academies are where we develop the future leaders of the military. That is why it is essential that the department instill in its future leaders a commitment to fostering a climate of dignity and respect, where cadets and midshipmen are empowered and possess the social courage to take action when faced with situations at risk for sexual assault, sexual harassment, and inappropriate behavior of any kind.”
The report, which covers the 2012-13 school year, found the academies complied with all policies regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault. “The academies instituted new initiatives during the year to enhance training, improve awareness and promote a safe environment for all cadets and midshipmen,” Snow said.
In 2013, reports of sexual assault decreased at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. The number of reported incidents went up at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
Overall, there were 70 reports involving at least one military victim or military subject at the academies. “Of those 70 reports, 53 were made by cadets and midshipmen for events they experienced while they were in military service,” Snow said.
The report includes the conclusions based on focus groups conducted at the institutions. One encouraging report was that cadets and midshipmen believed that reports of sexual harassment or sexual assault would be taken seriously by academy leadership and dealt with appropriately, Snow said. “That’s good,” he added. “Cadets and midshipmen also identified peer pressure as a barrier to reporting. That’s not good.”
The general also announced changes to the department’s approach to the problem that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has directed.
To ensure unity of effort and purpose, the service academy superintendents will implement sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention and response strategic plans that are aligned with their respective service strategic plans. Hagel also ordered that cadets and midshipmen be involved in command climate assessments.
“To increase a victim’s confidence associated with reporting, the superintendents must develop and implement solutions that address concerns of social retaliation amongst peers, engage with leaders and supervisors of teams, clubs, and other cadet and midshipmen organizations, and provide cadet and midshipmen influencers with the skills and knowledge to strengthen their ongoing mentorship programs,” Snow said.
The secretary also directed academy superintendents to review and expand institutional alcohol policies to address risk factors beyond individual use, including the availability of alcohol, training providers and community outreach.
The superintendents have until March 31 to report their plans to the Pentagon.
The department aspires to be a national leader in combatting the crime of sexual assault, Metzler said, just as it was a leader in integration of African-Americans. “We intend to impart a set of values and expectations and standards of behavior,” the colonel said. “That’s how we’ve led change in these other cultural issues, and that’s how we intend to lead change here.”
It starts with good leaders doing the right things, the colonel said. Offensive remarks or emails, sexist behavior and harassment all must end, he added.
“We have to start on the low end of that continuum of harm, create that nonpermissive environment, detect offenders, conduct complete and total independent investigations … and then hold offenders appropriately accountable,” Metzler said.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneAFPS)
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