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Airforce academy reforms criticized { July 12 2003 }

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Air Force Academy Reforms Criticized
Assault Victims Need Confidentiality Rule, Pentagon Panelist Says

By T. R. Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 12, 2003; Page A03

COLORADO SPRINGS, July 11 -- Policy changes proposed by the Air Force to deal with the spate of sexual assaults at the Air Force Academy could actually make the situation worse, the chairman of the Pentagon committee investigating the academy scandal warned today.

Former representative Tillie Fowler (R-Fla.), head of the panel, said the academy's "Agenda for Change," set forth this spring by Air Force Secretary James G. Roche, may make it harder to track sexual assaults because it does not permit female cadets who are attacked by male students to make a confidential report.

"The female cadets have told us that they are going to be even less willing to come forward if they can't do it confidentially," Fowler said.

The result of Roche's policy, she predicted, will be that "the command will announce great progress, because the number of reported incidents is down. But that will only be because a lot of women won't report."

Fowler's seven-member review panel visited the academy's starkly modern campus at the foot of the Rockies here this week and met with 10 present and former academy women who reported they had been assaulted or raped by male cadets.

"The most amazing thing was that they are scared to death to report an attack," noted committee member John Ripley, a retired Marine colonel.

"These women feel that if they report a sexual assault, then they will suffer -- they'll be ostracized by their fellow cadets, they'll be punished by the commanding officer, or they'll have a reputation for the rest of their Air Force career."

Over the past six months, about five dozen female students have reported that they had been sexually assaulted. Many said they felt intense pressure from fellow students not to turn in their attackers. Some women who did go to their commanders said that they were disciplined by the brass for various violations -- including underage drinking and wearing civilian clothes at a party -- after they reported being raped.

When the sexual assault scandal broke last winter, Roche and Gen. John P. Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, defended the academy's senior officers. Speaking to the entire cadet wing in March, Roche put the blame firmly on the students, saying the main problem was "a bunch of bums" among the cadets.

That speech prompted an angry reaction in Congress. Under pressure to hold somebody in a senior position accountable for the scandal, Roche eventually cashiered four officers, including the academy's superintendent, Lt. Gen. John R. Dallager, and his second-in-command, Brig. Gen. S. Taco Gilbert III.

Roche has since been nominated to become secretary of the Army. His Senate confirmation hearing later this summer is expected to focus on his handling of the academy scandal. This week, Roche took further action: When Dallager retires from active duty on Aug. 31, the secretary said, he will be demoted from three stars to two stars. That will reduce his retirement pay by about $10,000 per year, Air Force officers calculated.

Dallager testified before the Fowler committee here today, his blue epaulets still bearing the three gleaming stars. He said he was "personally disappointed" by the demotion. "But I respect the secretary's decision," he added grimly.

The review committee members made it clear at today's hearing that their meeting Thursday with the academy women had a strong impact. "We talked to victims who were scared to report they were raped, or pressured not to report," Fowler said.

"The result is that these women saw their assailants graduate from the Air Force Academy the next spring. We are sending into our Air Force these predators."

Sally Satel, another committee member, noted that the academy pays for cadets who need to receive drug or alcohol abuse treatment off-campus. But students are required to pay for off-campus rape counseling. School officials said this policy is in place because the school provides its own counseling for women who report a rape.

The Air Force Academy has admitted women for 28 years, but only 16 percent of the 4,200 students are women. Male and female cadets serve together in student squadrons, the basic unit of cadet life. Thus they have been assigned to the same dormitories.

Under the policy changes Roche has proposed, female cadets would be given separate housing. Some female students have complained that they would be condemned to a "ghetto" under this system.

The other big change in Roche's plan is that rape victims can no longer make confidential reports on assaults. Academy officials say this new rule is designed to make it more likely that rapists will be successfully prosecuted. But Fowler and other committee members observed today that the change will make it even more difficult for victims to come forward.

The Fowler committee is to make recommendations Sept. 22 to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "I imagine we will have something to say about the importance of confidentiality in reporting these attacks," she said.

2003 The Washington Post Company

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