Naval Academy says increase in sex assault reports shows progress

Naval Academy officials say an increase in reports of sexual assault shows they are making progress against the crime.

Fifteen sexual assaults were reported at the academy during the 2012-2013 academic year, the Pentagon said Friday, up from 13 the year before.

The data came in the Pentagon's Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies. Reports of sexual assault fell at the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy, for an overall drop across the academies from 80 in 2011-2012 to 70 in 2012-2013.

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, head of the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said it was not possible to say whether the decline in reports indicates a decline in assaults. He said the office would survey cadets and midshipmen this year to gain a better understanding of the number of assaults taking place.

"I want to make one thing clear," Snow told reporters Friday. "Sexual assault is a crime and has no place at the academies, just as it has no place in the armed forces."

Past surveys have indicated that hundreds of cadets and midshipman are subjected to unwanted sexual contact each year.

The drop in reports at the academies runs counter to the recent militarywide trend of increased reporting — a trend that officials have said indicates a growing trust in the military justice system.

Nancy J. Parrish, president of the victim advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, expressed concern. "That number is going in the wrong direction," she said.

At the Naval Academy, eight of the 15 reports involved an alleged attack by one midshipman on another. The rest either predated the alleged victim's arrival at the academy or were perpetrated by someone other than a midshipman.

Cmdr. John Schofield, an academy spokesman, said the year-over-year increase in reports "indicates that we are successfully cultivating a climate where victims feel safe reporting assaults."

The authors of the report released Friday conclude that leaders, faculty and staff at the academies are committed to eliminating sexual assault, and the "vast majority" of students "generally support the values of mutual respect and dignity."

"However, the extent to which cadets and midshipmen feel free to act on these values varies. ... At each of the three academies, there is evidence that some cadets and midshipmen disregarded academy policies and practices in these areas."

The authors cite as an example the midshipmen who rented an off-campus house in Annapolis, in violation of academy rules, and hosted parties at which alcohol was served to minors.

The house on Witmer Court is where three members of Navy's football team were alleged to have sexually assaulted a female midshipman in April 2012.

One midshipman faces a court-martial in that incident. Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Michael H. Miller decided not to pursue charges against another, and charges against a third were dismissed Friday.

Schofield said midshipmen are briefed by the sexual assault prevention and response staff on their first day on campus. During their four years on campus, the academy spokesman said, midshipmen receive more than 30 hours of such mandatory training and education — more than at any other college or university in the country.

He said special effort is focused on academy athletes. He said all sports team captains, company commanders and brigade leaders participated in a leadership retreat last summer at which sexual harassment and assault was a central theme.

All varsity athletes are required to sign a code of conduct at the beginning of the year that addresses sexual harassment and sexual assault, Schofield said, and the academy superintendent met with each varsity team and coach during the summer and fall to "reinforce expectations."

Schofield said athletic association employees met with the academy sexual assault prevention and response staff and attended training sessions.

"The Naval Academy continues to promote a positive command climate where incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault are immediately identified and ultimately eliminated," he said. "As an institution producing future leaders for the Navy and Marine Corps, nothing is more important than instilling and maintaining a climate where all midshipmen always treat one another — and expect to be treated — with dignity and mutual respect."

The authors of the report write that the Naval Academy "demonstrated a commitment to increasing awareness of sexual assaults and harassment at the academy, developing and conducting high quality training, and improving the victim experience."

They encouraged officials to continue to incorporate "sexual assault prevention learning objectives" in academic curriculum and to develop measures to judge effectiveness and prevention.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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