Reports of sexual assaults at US military academies increase
WASHINGTON (AP), -- Sexual assaults reported at U.S. military academies grew sharply in the 2020-21 schoolyear, as students returned home for classes during the coronavirus epidemic, according to U.S officials who are familiar with the reports.
Officials believe that the increase is continuing an upward trend at the academy, despite new programs for sexual assault prevention and treatment.
It is difficult to compare the sums for the three previous years. The number of reports fell at all the academies in the 2019-20 pandemic-shortened school year. Students were sent home in spring to complete the semester online.
Officials stated that the increase in cases at the Air Force Academy as well as the U.S. Military Academy of West Point was responsible for the overall rise. Officials stated that there were 131 assaults by cadets and midshipmen in 2020-21. This is compared to 88 last year and 122 the year before. Officials discussed the reports under the condition that they were not made public.
Officials say that 52 assaults were reported by cadets from the Air Force Academy of Colorado, as opposed to 46 at West Point, New York, and 33 at the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland.
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth visited West Point earlier in the month to meet with academy leaders, staff, and cadets, and discussed the issue of sexual assault. They also discussed the Trust Program, which is run by cadets. It helps them address sexual assault and harassment as well as encourage intervention when they observe questionable behavior.
Wormuth stated that West Point is trying to improve cadets trust in its reporting system, while also preventing incidents from ever happening. Wormuth added that West Point has increased resources to victims to ensure that each case is handled with care. Students are sometimes encouraged to come forward and talk about unwelcome sexual contact in years prior to starting school at West Point. The total number of sexual assault reports for 2020-21 includes those that involve students, but are not reported by school personnel. This is also an increase from the 148 reported in the year before the pandemic.
This latest increase is occurring as Lloyd Austin, Defense Secretary, and other leaders struggle with sexual assaults in the military amid increasing criticism from Capitol Hill. Lawmakers are calling for more aggressive prosecutions and better prevention.
Austin and others acknowledge that they are still trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Senior defense official stated that the department was encouraged by students being more willing to report assaults. This allows victims to receive help and the perpetrators to be held responsible. However, military leaders expressed concern that trends are not going in the right direction.
Officials said that it was difficult to assess the impact of the pandemic. In the fall 2020, students returned to the academies but were subjected to severe restrictions, random COVID-19 testing, and mixed online and in-person classes. Many bars, restaurants, and other businesses located around campus campuses were closed or made less accessible.
Due to the pandemic, a planned anonymous survey of students was not done in 2020. This could have provided greater insight into the problem. Officials believe the survey provides more accurate information about sexual assaults, harassment, and unwanted sexual contact than other surveys that are normally conducted every two years. Officials said that a survey will be done this spring.