Sexual assaults overlooked in Air Force

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Pentagon’s inspector general says a series of commanders at the Air Force Academy failed to recognize and deal with reports of sexual assaults against female cadets on campus, officials said yesterday.

“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,'” Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz wrote in a Dec. 3 memo to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, quoting his own report.

“Consequently, they failed to initiate and monitor adequate corrective measures to change the culture until recently,” Schmitz wrote.

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.

Schmitz’s full report was not released. A summary blamed — but didn’t name — eight Air Force officials for their roles in the program that oversaw sexual-assault reporting at the academy.

In a press conference, 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,” Chu said.

Outside investigations concluded the culture of the academy 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.

Academy officials say matters have improved since the assaults came to light.

Schmitz’s report said academy leaders should have been better role models and should have kept a closer watch on their commands.

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.

Chu, however, said, “The problem is deeper than handling of individual cases.”

Gen. Michael “Buzz” Moseley, the Air Force’s vice chief of staff, noted that all senior leaders at the academy had been replaced since the allegations came to light.

In May, a Pentagon task force found that 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, ordered in February by Rumsfeld 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.