Former Air Force prosecutor calls academy chief's response to sex assault investigation "pathetic"

Our six-month investigation into sexual assaults against more than a dozen current and former cadets at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) is prompting calls for dramatic reform. The cadets told CBS News they were retaliated against by peers and military leadership for reporting sexual assaults.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, is calling for Senate hearings and an investigation by the Defense Department's inspector general after watching our reports. That follows USAFA superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria's appearance on "CBS This Morning" Tuesday where he said "I don't think there are problems" at the academy in regards to sexual assault and handling of the reports.

"I think there needs to be an IG investigation," Gillibrand said. "There needs to be a thorough investigation of why justice was not done in this case." She said perpetrators are not being held accountable.


Retired Col. Don Christensen  

CBS News

Retired Col. Don Christensen, former chief prosecutor for the U.S. Air Force from 2010 to 2014, agreed with Gillibrand and called Silveria's response "pathetic."

"That was stunning. Air Force's own numbers show that last academic year, and these numbers came out March of this year, 11.2 percent of all women cadets were sexually assaulted during that academic year. Forty-seven percent were sexually harassed. Yes, they have a sexual assault problem, sexual harassment problem," said Christensen, now president of Protect our Defenders, an organization dedicated to ending rape and sexual assault in the military.

On Tuesday, Silveria also said, "I want numbers of reports to go up. I know that doesn't make sense right on the surface, but I want reporting to go up … so that I can provide that care, provide that support."

Christensen responded, "As the general talked about, all he talked about was support. He never once talked about holding offenders accountable, and that is a huge failure. You have to do more. Support's great, but when you have people out there being hurt, you need to make sure that somebody is holding those who hurt them accountable."

Christensen also defended Teresa Beasley, a former top official on sexual assault prevention and response at the academy who told "CBS This Morning" co-host Norah O'Donnell she believes the academy has tried to cover up circumstances surrounding two violent attacks on female cadets that occurred in December 2014 and January 2015.

"[Silveria] is the only person on that installation who has the authority to prosecute people. He made it sound like Teresa Beasley is one of the reasons there's a failure there. Teresa Beasley's job is to provide support to survivors. Her job was not to prosecute. Her job was not to stop retaliation. That is the general's job," Christensen said.

He said when female cadets come forward and report their assaults, "they're putting their career in peril."

The Air Force Academy told CBS News that in the last five years, 11 cadet survivors of sexual assault left the school. Eight disenrolled "voluntarily." As for the other three, one was over an honor violation, another for poor academics, and a third due to fitness deficiency. One current cadet, who requested that we protect her identity, said she regrets reporting her experience every day "because of everything that came after." 

"So it's a career ender," Christensen said. "And what does that do? What that does is denies this country, women like Norah talked to, who want to serve. Look. This is a retention issue, this is a recruiting issue. This is ability for America to bring the fight to the enemy."