December 23, 2005

Air Force Academy cadets see harassment decline

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sexual harassment has declined as a
problem at the U.S. Air Force Academy after stepped up official
attention to the issue, according to a student survey reported
by the Defense Department on Friday.

Similar declines were reported in surveys at the other two
U.S. military service academies, as the schools have expanded
programs over the past year to prevent sexual abuses, increase
care for victims and boost lines of accountability.

The issue sparked national concern after reports in 2003 of
wide-ranging problems at the Air Force Academy in Colorado
Springs, Colorado.

In the congressionally mandated survey, 76 percent of
females and 85 percent of males at the Air Force Academy said
sexual harassment was "less of a problem" than when they

Overall, 4 percent of female and 1 percent of male cadets
indicated they had been sexual assault victims during the
academic year that began in June 2004, the survey said.

That is below the rates for the other two academies.

At the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, 6
percent of students said they had experienced sexual assault
during the year. The comparable figures at the U.S. Naval
Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, were 5 percent of women and 1
percent of men, the report said.

In line with Defense Department practice, sexual assault
was defined as "intentional sexual contact, characterized by
use of force, physical threat or abuse of authority when the
victim does not or cannot consent."

Included were rape, nonconsensual oral or anal sex and
unwanted sexual contact or fondling.

This was the second of a series of congressionally mandated
surveys meant to determine the extent of sexual assault,
harassment and related issues at the service academies. The
sample consisted of 2,049 female and 3,287 male students.

Although the survey found that most of the academies'
students say sexual harassment is becoming less of a problem,
many incidents may go unreported. Only 44 percent of female
cadets at the Air Force Academy who complained of sexual
assault, for instance, said they had reported the incident to
authorities, the survey found.

The two most-commonly selected reasons for not reporting
sexual assault were fear of loss of friends and shame or
embarrassment, the report said.

In another high-profile controversy at the Air Force
Academy, cadets have complained of improper proselytizing by
evangelical Christian leaders on campus and a climate of
intolerance toward other religious beliefs, but this issue was
not addressed by the survey.

A separate survey of about 76,000 members of Defense
Department reserve components found sexual assault rates were
lower than in previous studies of reserve veterans.