COLORADO SPRINGS, COLOL. — COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The Air Force Academy has been peppered with 16 reports of sexual assault and misconduct -- ranging from rape to improper fondling -- since it declared a crackdown on sex crimes nine months ago.
Last year, there were none.
The numbers don't paint a pretty picture of the institution where some of the United States' brightest students pride themselves on professionalism and self-discipline. But academy officials say they want the problem out in the open.
"There just isn't any room to squirm out of the situation," spokesman Will Ketterson said. "It's embarrassing, and we'll take some heat in terms of public exposure. But we're going to confront it."
Almost all the victims have been female cadets, although at least two complaints of rape and sodomy were filed by local civilian women. The accused included male cadets and two Air Force officers at the academy.
As promised earlier this year, the academy has come down hard on offenders. Of the eight cases already resolved, two men were found guilty after a court-martial and sentenced to several months of confinement, two were forced to resign, and three received administrative punishment. Only one report was dismissed for lack of evidence.
As for the rest of the cases: Officials say three remain unsolved, three await action, and two have been referred to other service academies because they involved exchange students.
The surge in reported sex crimes at the academy contrasts sharply with those at other military academies this year: the U.S. Military Academy had two cases and the U.S. Naval Academy only one.
Lt. Gen. Bradley Hosmer was not available for comment this week, but the academy superintendent's tough stance on this issue is probably responsible for uncovering a problem that some cadets say has existed for years.
General Hosmer called a news conference in March to announce a crackdown on sexual assaults after a female cadet said she had been attacked by a group of men on campus on Valentine's Day. General Hosmer pledged to aggressively prosecute cases, raise awareness of the problem and encourage women to come forward with complaints.
And come forward they did.
Academy officials insist 16 incidents is probably no worse than at other college campuses, where experts say rape and sexual )) assault often go unreported.
"Essentially, the president of a major university told students, 'I really want to know what's going on,' and he got an answer he couldn't stand," Maj. Hank Dasinger, chief of the human relations division at the academy, said.
"I think we're setting the pace for other service academies to look at this problem in a way that's going to hurt," he said.
One place cadets can go to for help is the academy's Center for Character Development, established last summer.
"We've basically been given a blank check to redefine the way the academy handles these issues," Col. Marian Alexander, head of the center, said.
One of the first steps was to make it easier for women to report sexual assault, which apparently wasn't happening before.
It's natural for any female victim to hesitate because of embarrassment, self-doubt or even false guilt, human relations chief Major Dasinger said. But at the academy there is a unique pressure: a sense of loyalty to your unit.
The center also is organizing focus groups where cadets can talk about sexual dynamics and stereotypes. They learn about what sexual harassment or assault is and how to handle such situations. Instead of being told "thou shalt not," cadets are encouraged to see that certain behavior is simply wrong.
Active-duty supervisors are now required to attend special courses on sexual relations and are told they can be held accountable for what goes on in their units whether they know about it or not.
Several committees at the academy, some run by cadets, are exploring ways to overcome the sexual-assault problem. Their reports are expected any time now, officials said.