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No rape coverup says inquiry { June 20 2003 }

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Air Academy Inquiry Finds No Cover-Up
Friday June 20, 2003 12:19 AM


Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Attention among Air Force Academy leaders to the issue of sexual assault has dwindled in the past six years, but there is no ``systemic acceptance'' of assaults, an Air Force investigation found.

In a report Thursday, an investigative panel identified problems such as an environment that leaves new cadets vulnerable to attacks, uncertainty over what constitutes sexual assault, alcohol use by many victims, and a fear among cadets of retaliation if they report an attack.

The panel was formed in January by Air Force Secretary James G. Roche after receiving an e-mail from a cadet claiming there was a widespread problem with sexual assaults at the academy and that leadership was dismissive of the complaints.

``Importantly, the working group concluded there was no systemic acceptance of sexual assault at the academy over this 10-year period we examined, no institutional avoidance of responsibility and no systemic maltreatment of cadets who reported sexual assault,'' said Air Force general counsel Mary Walker, who led the panel.

But the panel found that since 1997 other demands had forced top leaders to spend less time on issues such as sexual assault at the academy, located outside Colorado Springs, Colo.

Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., whose office has received dozens of complaints of sexual assault or abuse, praised some of the recommendations, but said the panel failed to identify who should be held accountable.

``I thought that the Air Force tried to use language that didn't hold the academy and the academy officials fully responsible and I was disappointed in that regard,'' he said. ``I think there is a systemic problem and I think that their recommendations suggest that, but I think they tried to deny that in their report.''

Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida, commandant of cadets and acting superintendent of the academy, said the academy has identified 163 changes to make as a result of the report. Some are already under way, including changes to sexual reporting policies and guarantees that sexual assault victims will not be punished for drinking alcohol or other infractions at the time of the assault.

``We're turning over rocks, plowing fields to make sure everything we do here is about excellence and creating a climate of trust and confidence,'' he said.

Victims advocate Kate Summers of the Miles Foundation said she was disappointed with the report.

``I don't think the report addresses the concerns and the issues that the victims raised, the problems that they have encountered,'' she said.

The panel reviewed 142 reported assaults since 1993.

It identified one case - in which a male cadet allegedly entered a female cadet's room at night and forcibly fondled her - where academy leaders chose not to file charges but the panel believed prosecution was warranted. The statute of limitations prevents any action being taken in that case. The alleged perpetrator left the academy.

In four other cases the group was divided on whether charges should have been filed.

First-year cadets were especially vulnerable because of a command structure that subordinates them to upperclassmen. Freshman cadets made up 53 percent of the victims despite making up 29 percent of the student body.

Weida said it is appropriate for senior cadets to exercise authority over new cadets.

``That's the way it has to be because it is part of the military. They're training battlefield leaders,'' Weida said. ``The key is to make sure all relationships are professional.''

The report did not hold accountable any of the leaders at the academy. Walker said it was not part of the group's charter, but Roche is assessing whether any individuals prevented the reporting of assaults or if leaders failed to act on information they were given.

Congress has created its own panel to determine the accountability of academy commanders. That panel begins meeting Monday.


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