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Afa rapes growing { February 21 2003 }

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Air Force Academy rape reports growing
Allard: 12 current, former cadets cite sex attacks, post-accusation problems
By Erin Emery
Denver Post Staff Writer

Friday, February 21, 2003 - AIR FORCE ACADEMY - A growing number of former and current female cadets - 12 as of Thursday - have come forward to reveal they were sexually assaulted at the academy and then punished for reporting what happened, Sen. Wayne Allard said.
The women informed Allard's offices in Denver, Colorado Springs and Washington about the assaults. They said that after they reported the attacks to academy officials, they were ostracized and reprimanded for minor infractions.

Allard said Thursday that he is poised to ask for a full hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in a case that may be shaping up as one of the largest military sex scandals since the Tailhook incident in 1991, when Navy and Marine pilots molested Navy women during a convention at a Las Vegas hotel.

Also Thursday, a team of top Air Force officers launched an investigation that is expected to last five to seven days. All files, criminal and administrative, will be available to the investigators, including information the academy said it has been unable to release because of privacy laws.

Allard said he asked for the Air Force investigation after at least three cadets told their stories last week on KMGH-TV Channel 7.

"We think the women are credible," Allard said Thursday. "It seems like when a woman reports a rape case that the wheels get set in motion where she gets forced out of the academy. And not always is there a similar thing happening to the men."

Gen. S. Taco Gilbert III, commandant of cadets, said the academy welcomes the investigation. Asked whether there is a culture at the academy that punishes women after reporting, he said: "If there is a perception of a problem in the wing, we've tried to take that head on because I will not tolerate, I will not tolerate, retribution against a victim ... and I have made that very clear to the cadet wing."

Allard, though, said there are problems.

In one case, Allard said, male upperclassmen invited a freshman woman to the upper floors of the dorm. They drank alcohol, and a rape occurred.

"When it was processed, she was ostracized because she had sex in the room and was drinking liquor, but they tended to ignore the fact that the men had invited an underage freshman woman up into the room and that they were also drinking and they also had sex," Allard said.

The senator said he met with investigators last week after they conducted a preliminary probe.

"They indicated to me that they had interviewed some of the women. The investigators relayed to me that they had some legitimate concerns," Allard said.

Allard, a Republican from Loveland, said he is trying to keep pressure on the investigators so the Air Force will deliver a "true" report. He said he will wait until the Air Force investigation is completed before asking Sen. John Warner, R-Va. and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, for a hearing.

The academy said there were 99 calls to the school's sexual misconduct hotline from 1998 to 2002. Thirteen were reported as rapes and, of those, nine were investigated. None resulted in a court-martial, although eight men were disenrolled and dismissed from the Air Force under administrative punishment. One case is pending.

One recent case involved Maximiliano Rodriguez, who was accused of raping a 20-year-old cadet after a party at an Aurora home in October 2001. In that case, the woman stripped to her underwear during a poker game, then dressed. She then accompanied Rodriguez to the master bathroom in the home, she said in March during a hearing for Rodriguez. The case never went to court-martial because there was insufficient evidence that a crime was committed.

At least one female cadet told KMGH that after she reported being raped, her career dissolved. Another cadet said that after she reported that she was assaulted, investigators undermined her credibility because she drank alcohol when she shouldn't have.

Gilbert said the academy offers hours of training to discourage sexual harassment and sexual assault. A recent survey, he said, showed that 80 percent of cadets had confidence in the academy's reporting programs. Those who didn't were mostly women.

"If there is any victim out there that feels that they have not been treated in a fair manner and a professional manner and a supportive manner, I hope they'll come to me because that's my charter, that's my dedication," Gilbert said. "I have three little girls and I view each of these assaults as if it happened to one of them."

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

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