Navy vows zero tolerance in sexual assaults

Air Force scandal prompts academy to review policy

April 01, 2003|By Ariel Sabar | Ariel Sabar,SUN STAFF

The superintendent of the Naval Academy, Vice Adm. Richard J. Naughton, made a forceful statement yesterday expressing "zero tolerance" for sexual assault at the military college and vowing to promptly investigate all complaints.

It was Naughton's first public statement on the issue since the Air Force Academy, in Colorado Springs, Colo., came under fire for its mishandling of sexual assault cases. It seemed aimed at assuring the school's oversight panel and the public that the Naval Academy was committed to aggressively pursuing complaints of sexual misconduct.

"The Department of Navy's policy regarding sexual assault is clear -- prompt and thorough investigation and assessment, zero tolerance for proven offenders and maximum assistance to victims," Naughton said in opening remarks to the quarterly meeting of the school's oversight body, the Board of Visitors. "One incident of sexual assault by a midshipman is too many."

Naughton said the elite officer-training school was evaluating its policies in the aftermath of the Air Force Academy scandal, saying that he has had "very candid and productive discussions" with Air Force officials.

"We want to actively prosecute" offenders, he said. "Victims should not be victimized."

Naughton, who became superintendent in June, delivered a similar message to the school's 4,200 midshipmen Sunday, academy officials said.

The Air Force announced last week that it was replacing four top academy officials after allegations by current and former female cadets that the school routinely brushed aside sexual-assault complaints and often turned investigations onto the accusers instead of their attackers.

The Air Force Academy said it had received 56 complaints of sexual misconduct since 1993, 20 of them rapes.

An investigation of the school by the Department of Defense's inspector general is also examining how the Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point have dealt with sexual assaults.

Of the 4,219 students at the Naval Academy, 644 are women.

In a survey last year, 5 percent of its students said they had experienced sexual harassment -- down from 16 percent in 1997. Still, 78 percent of those who said they had been harassed last year chose not to report it.

The Naval Academy appears to have moved quickly in recent years to investigate complaints but has hardly been free of its own problems with sexual misconduct.

Naughton acknowledged yesterday that dealing with sexual assault remains a "serious challenge" and a "difficult issue."

He said the academy had received 11 complaints of assault in the last three years. Of those, four were found credible and three are still under investigation. The academy has declined to say how the perpetrators were punished.

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