Military Issues Cadet Assault Memo

Air Force Academy commanders over the past 10 years failed to recognize and deal with the seriousness of sexual assaults against female cadets, according to the Pentagon's inspector general.

In a memo to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that was released Tuesday, Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz wrote, "We conclude that the overall root cause of the sexual assault problems at the Air Force Academy was the 'failure of successive chains of command over the past 10 years to acknowledge the severity of the problem.'"

He quoted his own report on the academy in the Dec. 3 memo. But the Pentagon did not release his full report.

In response to this and other sexual assault issues in the armed forces, David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said the Pentagon would soon implement a new military-wide policy protecting the confidentiality of people who report being sexually assaulted.

"First and foremost, we want victims to come forward for help," something that hasn't happened enough in the past, Chu said.

The scandal at the Air Force Academy, in Colorado Springs, Colo., began to emerge in January 2003. It led to the sacking of the academy's leadership and wholesale reviews of military policy on sexual assault.

Last year, nearly 150 women came forward with accusations that they had been sexually assaulted by fellow cadets between 1993 and 2003. Many alleged they were punished, ignored or ostracized by commanders for speaking out.

A summary of Schmitz's report blamed — but didn't name — eight Air Force officials for their roles in policies that oversaw sexual-assault reporting at the academy. They are dealt with in Schmitz's full report. Chu and other officials declined to discuss any actions against those officials, or say whether they were still in the service.

Schmitz wrote that the academy commanders "failed to initiate and monitor adequate corrective measures to change the culture until recently." Academy leaders should have been better role models and should have kept a closer watch on their commands, he said.

Outside investigations concluded the academy's culture created conditions that contributed to the problem. That included lingering resistance to having female cadets at all: Last year, a survey of cadets found 22 percent did not believe women belonged at the academy, more than a quarter of a century after they were first admitted.

The Air Force also released a second report, from its own inspector general, finding that formal investigations of sexual assault at the academy were generally handled properly.

However, Chu said, "The problem is deeper than handling of individual cases."

Air Force officials say matters have improved since the assaults came to light. Gen. T. Michael "Buzz" Moseley, the Air Force's vice chief of staff, said more than 3,000 women applied for admission to the academy for the academic year that started this fall, a record.

"What's striking is the fact that we had a decade of leadership and poor example-setting by some of the leadership in the academy," said Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., among those briefed on the report's summary. "I think that's been corrected now. I think they have very strong, good leadership at the academy now."

But Vincent Mountjoy-Pepka, whose daughter alleged she was punished for reporting an alleged assault at the academy, had little confidence in the investigation. He said the victims and their families were not told about the report.

"We are not expecting anything other than more of the same total contempt for the rule of law and justice, and the rights of the brave young Air Force women cadets on the part of the entire U.S. military legal complex from this report," Mountjoy-Pepka said.

In recent years, the military has had to deal with sexual assault issues across the services.

In May, a Pentagon task force found victims of rape and other forms of sexual assault in the military have too often suffered additionally from a lack of support from commanders, criminal investigators and doctors.

The report, which Rumsfeld ordered in February after a number of sexual assaults against soldiers in the Iraqi theater came to light, described inconsistencies throughout the military in the treatment and investigation of such assaults.

The nonprofit Miles Foundation, which helps victims of family and sexual violence in the military, said Tuesday it has received 273 reports of sexual assault against deployed military personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Bahrain since August 2002, and an addition 31 assaults against personnel preparing to deploy.

The reported attacks were across the services, and predominantly consisted of male active-duty personnel assaulting female personnel, although some cases involved foreign nationals.