Changes Planned At A.F. Academy

Sharon Fullilove, 21, shown in her dorm room, Friday, February 28, 2003, now studies biology and dentistry at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Az. Fullilove spent one semester, in 1999, at the Air Force Academy, where she says she was raped by an upperclassman.
Several changes are reportedly in the works at the Air Force Academy, where dozens of female cadets have reported they were raped.

Air Force Chief of Staff John Jumper and Air Force Secretary James Roche tell The Washington Post the changes include separating dormitory rooms of male and female cadets.

"Now the climate is such that the male can see the female in these intimate circumstances, in bathrobes walking down the halls," Jumper told the paper. Such proximity "erodes the dignity of the male and female interaction. That's the part that has to be restored."

Rape counselors and specialists in sexual violence in the military don't agree.

"It's a step backward," Kate Summers, director of the Connecticut-based Miles Foundation, a nonprofit organization that assists victims of violence associated with the military, told the paper.

She added that research indicates integrating rather than segregating men and women in the military — in units, living quarters and work areas — tends to diminish the incidence of sexual assaults and rape by making women "more accepted and respected for their capabilities."

Officials at the main rape counseling center in Colorado Springs, where the academy is located, also said dormitory arrangements did not appear to be at the root of the problem.

Jumper and Roche also said they want to provide sexual assault victims with individual counselors to track the handling of complaints. And they want to give the academy's officers and senior enlisted personnel more authority to monitor relations between male and female cadets.

Meanwhile, Air Force investigators returned to Colorado Springs on Monday to speak with officials from a crisis center where 38 female cadets sought help after they said they were raped.

Members of the 17-person team met for two hours Monday with representatives of TESSA, the region's main civilian rape crisis center.

"I feel they were taking the information very seriously, that they were very thoughtful and concerned, genuinely concerned, about these reports," TESSA Executive Director Cari Davis said.

Davis said they discussed what the cadets told counselors about how the Air Force handled their cases. She said the center didn't reveal the cadets' names because of confidentiality rules.

Davis said the number of cadets who sought help from the center over the past 15 years now stands at 38, up from 22 reported last month, after the center contacted several former counselors. She also said the number could rise.

A separate team of investigators from the Air Force inspector general's office will arrive later this week to look at individual cases, Lt. Col. Dewey Ford said.

The Air Force team had left town after an earlier 10-day investigation without consulting with TESSA officials, prompting complaints from Sen. Wayne Allard, who had previously called for an independent investigation.

Davis said investigators told her Monday they were unaware of the center's existence during their first visit.

Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado last week called for the removal of the academy's top commanders, saying he doesn't believe they can change the culture that led to the rape allegations.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Monday that President Bush is concerned about the allegations but is "confident that the department of the Air Force is handling this properly."

The Air Force says it has investigated 54 reports of sexual assault since the academy began admitting women in 1976. Many alleged victims have said they were afraid to report the attacks because they feared they would be reprimanded.

Jumper and Roche have visited the academy in the past month, saying female cadets should feel safe and that rapists have no place in the military.