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"A cultural rot": Sex assaults spike at U.S. service academies

Sex assaults at military schools spiked 50%
Sexual assaults at military academies spiked 50 percent in past school year: Pentagon 03:36

A disturbing new Pentagon report indicates sexual assault at three prestigious U.S. military academies spiked 50 percent in the past school year. An estimated 747 West Point and Air Force Academy cadets, and Naval Academy midshipmen told an anonymous survey they were sexually assaulted in the last academic year – up from 507 three years ago.

The survey also found worsening problems at the Air Force Academy, despite changes put in place after CBS News' reporting exposed troubling patterns.

Defense Department officials said they are troubled and disheartened by the surge in sexual harassment and violence at U.S. military service academies, reports CBS News' Norah O'Donnell. 

According to a new study released Thursday, 50 percent of the women and 16 percent of the men enrolled at the Military, Air Force and Naval Academies were sexually harassed. Another 16 percent of the women and two percent of the men said they were sexually assaulted.

"There is a cultural rot. It's not just a few bad apples," said Rep. Jackie Speier, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel. "I think some heads have to roll … if all of a sudden, these cadets are going to be kicked out and their families are going to be expected to pay $100,000 in tuition … maybe behavior will change."

At the Air Force Academy, approximately 221 cadets were sexually assaulted, up from 150 two years ago.

In 2017, CBS News spoke to more than a dozen current and former Air Force Academy cadets who said they were retaliated against after reporting their assaults.

"You go there because you want to protect their county, and they don't protect you," one said.

Asked if she regretted reporting the assault, another said, "Oh, I regret it every day … I regret it every day because of everything that came after. I just wish that I never came forward."

Former Air Force Academy official alleges sexual assault cover-ups 06:01

Nationwide, nearly 750 cadets and midshipmen said in an anonymous survey they were sexually assaulted last year but only 92 formally reported it.

Don Christensen, president of Protect Our Defenders as well as a retired colonel and military attorney, said just four people accused of sexual assault at the academies last year were convicted.

"Accountability is the missing element in all of this," Christensen said. "Each one of the academies has a three star who oversees it. They're literally the only person who can prosecute the case … they simply do not send enough people to court."

The Pentagon said this report does not reflect the impact of prevention programs implemented last year. Army Secretary Mark Esper said he has directed West Point's leadership to come up with an updated action plan in the coming weeks.

The Air Force Academy told CBS News, "We remain committed to tackling this issue head-on. We have worked diligently to create new programs and adjust existing ones in order to better serve our cadets."

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