By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
12/28/2011 – WASHINGTON (AFNS) — Defense Department officials released the “Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies” on Dec. 27, covering the academic year from June 1, 2010, to May 31, 2011.
The report shows an increase in reports of sexual assault, with 65 reports of sexual assault involving cadets and midshipmen, compared to 41 reports in the previous academic year.
“One sexual assault is one too many,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said in a DOD news release.
“Whether it’s in our academies or our ranks, at sea or ashore, there’s no place for this unacceptable behavior,” Panetta continued. “We treat each other with dignity in this institution. I expect everyone in this department to live up to that high standard.”
In the release, Air Force Maj. Gen. Mary Kay Hertog, the director of the department’s sexual assault prevention and response office, stressed the importance of accountability and victim support.
“We know that the military academies are similar to college campuses around the country in that sexual harassment and assault are challenges that all faculty, staff and students need to work to prevent,” Hertog said. “However, when it does occur, we owe it to those who have been victimized, and to every cadet and midshipman, to do everything possible to provide needed support and to hold those who commit sexual assault appropriately accountable.”
During the comprehensive review outlined in the report, defense officials visited the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. They reviewed each institution’s policies, training and procedures, and held focus groups with cadets and midshipmen.
Officials found that most academy programs fulfilled or surpassed the requirements of existing DOD policies and directives.
“We also identified areas for improvement to enhance programs and ensure compliance with the department’s policies,” Hertog said. “In our oversight role, my office will follow up with the academies every six months to ensure the necessary improvements are implemented in a timely manner.”
One required improvement is that academies evaluate and measure their sexual harassment and assault prevention programs.
Defense officials also announced two new policies relating to sexual assault Dec. 27.
One allows a service member who makes an unrestricted report of a sexual assault to request an expedited transfer to a new duty station. A restricted report, which is confidential, allows a victim to seek medical aid and counseling but is not communicated to the chain of command.
The second new policy standardizes retention periods for sexual assault records across the military services to ensure victims have extended access to those documents.
“This is a leadership issue, first and foremost, so I also expect us to lead with integrity and with energy to eliminate sexual assault and harassment from our culture,” Panetta said. “I’m confident the steps we are taking are the right ones, but we must continue to improve.”
The annual report is required by the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act, which directed the DOD to annually evaluate sexual harassment and sexual violence policies, training and procedures at the military service academies. The academies participated in the assessment.