Sexual assault study 92 rapes from 2001 to 2003 in airforce
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Command releases sex assault study
By PAM ZUBECK - THE GAZETTE
A new survey of the Pacific Air Forces found serious flaws in the handling of sexual assault reports, including victim services, but no evidence that commanders went easy on offenders.
The findings, released Thursday to The Gazette, are the first disclosed for an entire Air Force command and already are serving as a road map for assessments of all Air Force commands.
The assessment is the most far-reaching undertaken by Air Force Headquarters since it conducted a similar review of suicide policies and prevention programs in 1996.
Pacific commander Gen. William Begert called his five-month study, which found 106 accused offenders involved in 92 rapes reported from 2001 to 2003, disappointing but “not terribly surprising.”
Eight cases involved multiple suspects.
“What we found is we have the problem, as you would expect,” he said in an interview.
Begert issued orders Monday beefing up education about sexual assault and victim aid.
Air Force Secretary James Roche said in a statement the servicewide review had been planned for some time and that the Pacific command’s work “will help inform many of our efforts to ensure that we have an environment of safety, respect and camaraderie for all our airmen.”
The Air Force’s other eight commands were briefed about the Pacific command’s findings Feb. 4 and launched their assessments in early February. They’ll examine education and training, reporting procedures, victim response programs and oversight by commanders.
Findings will feed into a Defense Department review ordered Feb. 10 by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
“What we’re after is how we’re doing,” Michael Dominguez, assistant Air Force secretary for manpower and reserves, said in an interview. “The principal focus of this effort is what’s working and what do we need to improve.”
Dominguez said 20 headquarters staffers are working full time with command teams and consultants to complete the assessments by May.
The Pacific study and the Air Force-wide initiative drew praise from Sen. Wayne Allard.
The Colorado Republican has been active in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s intervention in military sexual misconduct issues, beginning with the Air Force Academy’s sexual assault scandal last year.
“It looks like to me he’s reviewed his process, found the areas that need to be corrected and corrected them, and I don’t think you can ask any more,” Allard said. “I think that’s wonderful. That’s what members of the Armed Services Committee want.”
He also applauded the Air Force for its larger review.
“It’s good news as far as I’m concerned. I’m delighted. That’s what I wanted to see.”
Cari Davis, executive director of Colorado Springs’ TESSA, an advocacy agency, was more reserved.
“I think it’s very positive. Assessing the size, scope and nature of the issue is the first step toward solving it, and it appears that they are looking at both victim needs as well as offender accountability issues,” she said.
Begert was encouraged the study found no evidence of some trends exposed during investigations of the academy’s scandal, which prompted the Pacific’s review.
Rank wasn’t used to intimidate lower-ranking women, as upper-class cadets did at the academy. Only one victim was punished for fraternizing, an infraction that coincided with an attack, and “rightfully so,” Begert said. Many female cadets have contended they were punished for rules violations after reporting they had been assaulted.
All rape claims were investigated thoroughly at the command’s nine bases in the Pacific region of Japan, Korea, Guam, Hawaii, Alaska, Singapore and Diego Garcia. About 6,000 women are stationed at the bases.
Overall, commanders reacted more aggressively than researchers anticipated, Begert said.
Fourteen suspects were court-martialed. Of those, 12 were charged with rape. Seven were convicted, four of rape who were sentenced to an average of eight years in prison. Two cases are pending, three were disposed of with administration discharge and two were charged with lesser sex crimes.
No action was taken against 28 of the suspects; two others weren’t known. Twenty-two others were punished with nonjudicial punishment, two were civil prosecutions and 19 involved other administrative actions. Cases are pending against 19 other suspects.
The cases include not only service members but also military dependents and some civilians as victims and offenders, Begert said.
Although the national civilian conviction rate of 18 percent outpaces the Pacific command’s 7 percent, Begert noted no airman charged was acquitted of all charges, and all those charged were punished. The civilian acquittal rate is 14 percent, he said.
Not all the news was uplifting, though.
The number of rapes in Pacific command appears to be rising. There were 34 reported in 2001, 17 in 2002 and 41 in 2003. This year already has seen six.
Begert couldn’t explain the increase but credited the dip in 2002 with increased deployments and security because the Sept. 11 attacks.
The study also revealed the command shares some ground with the academy and the civilian world.
Alcohol was pervasive, mirroring findings that 72 percent of civilian sexual assault cases involve alcohol, according to a Harvard University study of 119 colleges released last month. A third of the command’s cases arose in Korea, which Begert blamed on 97 percent of service members being unaccompanied by family and living in dorms.
The study revealed system weaknesses, including paperwork inconsistencies that make it difficult to track cases and command decisions, and failure to care for victims.
“We found our victim assistance program is not what it should be,” Begert said. “We found dealings with subjects lacking, almost nonexistent.”
Dominguez said the Pacific study’s outcome is encouraging.
“Commanders are engaged and involved,” he said. “Their bond with their people they lead is strong. There’s a lot of loyalty and trust . . . and the whole climate and culture is much more supportive of women and of their ability to come forward and get help when a crime has been committed.”
AIR FORCE ACTION ITEMS
After a five-month study, Pacific Air Forces Commander Gen. William Begert issued several “action items” to improve sexual assault procedures. Among them:
- All airmen will be briefed upon arrival and at least annually on risks, responses and consequences of assault.
- Staff judge advocates must provide commanders written legal reviews upon receipt of sexual assault investigation reports. The commander’s decision will be filed with the report to enable better tracking of cases.
- Victim liaisons must be appointed immediately after an assault is reported and serve as advocates. They also must be trained in crisis intervention. This will assure a victim doesn’t get forgotten in the process and obtains proper treatment.
- Victims won’t be “dropped” if a case is not prosecuted but will receive services for as long as needed.
- Victim feedback is required to improve support systems.
- Commanders must assess and track a suspect’s ability to deal with the stress of an investigation. A master sergeant in Yokota committed suicide amid a sexual assault investigation. Another service member under investigation recently killed himself at Sheppard Air Force Base.
- Commanders can decide what, if any, steps to take to make dorms safer or restrict alcohol use.
Air Force commands and numbers of active-duty personnel assigned to each
as of January 2004:
Air Combat Command, 100,392 Air Education and Training Command, 71,571 Air Force Materiel Command, 23,409 Air Force Space Command, 19,400 Air Force Special Operations Command, 12,735 Air Mobility Command, 49,620 Pacific Air Forces, 33,131 U.S. Air Forces in Europe, 35,223 Total: 345,481
Copyright 2004, The Gazette, a division of Freedom Colorado Information. All rights reserved