Service academies focus on more robust sexual assault prevention | Article


The U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y.
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WASHINGTON — The Defense Department released its annual report on sexual harassment and assault at the military’s service academies Jan. 30.

The report reflects the academies’ efforts to support sexual assault victims, but also shows more work needs to be done to reduce and stop the crime, Pentagon officials said.

“Our overall takeaway is that the academies’ mature response systems are very good at assisting people in getting the services that they need to recover,” Dr. Nate Galbreath, acting director of the Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, told reporters at the Pentagon shortly after the report was released. “That being said, we look forward to the efforts that the academies are putting into building up their prevention programs so that this crime does not occur.”

The DOD Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies, Academic Program Year 2018-2019 includes feedback from 292 cadets and midshipmen, faculty and staff members at the U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, and U.S. Air Force Academy. DOD and service representatives also conducted onsite assessments of academy prevention and response efforts in compiling the report.

According to the report, the academies have each developed their own, robust response programs for sexual assault. The report also found that the academies have some of the pieces in place for effective prevention work, but all three schools need to better integrate, resource and evaluate their efforts. “Prevention science tells us that it’s not just what you do to prevent the crime that counts, it’s also how you do it and sustain it that can make the difference in stopping the crime,” Galbreath said.

This year’s report includes feedback from focus groups held with cadets, midshipmen, faculty and staff. Focus group participants noted that senior officers at the academies continue to take great strides to emphasize that sexual assault and harassment have no place within academy culture. However, participants also noted that efforts by cadet and midshipmen peer leaders to address disrespectful behavior and support those who report it fall short.

“The academies have made real efforts to boost the number of women they recruit and accept,” Galbreath said. “However, men continue to comprise most of the student body. Focus group participants told us that this makes for a ‘Bro’ culture, in which inappropriate language and behaviors are often tolerated. This creates an environment where similar behavior — or tolerance of that behavior — is socially rewarded. Those cadets and midshipmen that call out others for disrespectful behavior may then pay a social price.”

Galbreath announced that academy leadership will be piloting an effort to place cadet peer leaders at the center of efforts to improve academy culture and climate. This initiative will help prepare peer leaders to assess, plan and execute efforts to lead their fellow cadets and midshipmen, he said.

The report released Jan. 30 also said 149 reports of sexual assault were made at the academies, up from 117 reports received the prior year. Of the 149 reports, 122 were from cadets and midshipmen who made a report for an incident they experienced during their military service.

“We are encouraged that more cadets and midshipmen are coming forward to connect with the support services that we provide to aid in recovery of sexual assault,” Galbreath said.

“The department recognizes the challenge of combating sexual assault in the military service academies and the high cost of not succeeding,” Dr. Elizabeth Van Winkle, executive director of the Office of Force Resiliency, said in a written statement. “Our academies produce our future leaders. At every turn, we must drive out misconduct in place of good order and discipline.

“Our data last year, and the findings from this year’s report, reflect the progress we have made in some areas, and the significant work that remains,” she continued. “We will not falter in our efforts to eliminate these behaviors from our academies and to inculcate our expectation that all who serve are treated, and treat others, with dignity and respect.”

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