Academy considers task force advice

Sex harassment report suggests specific ways to help midshipmen

Focuses on culture, confidentiality

Panel recommends system to collect assault, misconduct data

August 28, 2005|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,SUN STAFF

Among the many suggestions made last week to officials at the U.S. Naval and Military academies to better handle sexual harassment and assault, those that stood out focused on academy culture and confidentiality in reporting infractions.

But the report of the Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies also included more than 50 detailed recommendations, which ranged from assigning an additional chaplain at each academy to implementing a permanent data collection system on sexual harassment and misconduct cases.

Academy leaders have taken steps to implement some suggestions. Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, the Naval Academy's superintendent since 2003, has spoken broadly about the Naval Academy's intent to improve programs already in place.

"We applaud the task force members for their hard work and dedication in learning about our programs, talking to our people and providing well-thought-out recommendations we can use to improve our programs and better meet our goal of zero incidents of sexual harassment, misconduct and assault," Rempt said.

Overall, the report said, focus groups indicated that midshipmen and cadets "believed complaints of sexual harassment or assault are more likely to be taken seriously; victims' services have been expanded; offenders are more likely to be held accountable; and leadership is more supportive and responsive."

The academy has had a "limited" confidentiality program in place since 2003, has formalized relationships with community groups that deal with sexual harassment and assault, and has agreed to improve training of leaders and counselors who often deal with abuse victims.

It will be up to Rempt and other academy brass to implement the rest of the recommendations in coming months, including major suggestions such as developing an institutional prevention plan and a sexual harassment and assault data collection system, as well as minor ones such as adding a chaplain and renovating Bancroft Hall to eliminate communal bathrooms.

The task force also recommended placing more women in command posts and recruiting more women. Rempt has noted that 17 women hold commander and captain ranks this year, compared with six in 2003.

While the report praised the Naval Academy for creating a Sexual Harassment, Misconduct and Assault Prevention and Response Program Manager position as a senior officer, it nonetheless called on both academies to "develop an institutional sexual harassment and assault prevention plan that is evaluated and updated annually."

The task force suggested increasing supervision of cadets and midshipmen during evening and weekend hours, and expanding the selection process so admissions officers can seek information about applicants' behavior in secondary school.

The panel's reasoning for the data collection system is that the current systems at both academies are informal and have been poorly maintained. The recommendation goes so far as to advise that the system be common to both academies and sophisticated enough to enable "detailed future information-gathering and trend analysis."

While the report noted that the Naval Academy already has expanded its ethics curricula to make sexual harassment and assault training part of formal academic courses, the task force suggested going further to include gender issues in military history and leadership classes.

Congress formed the task force after female cadets at the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs alleged in 2003 that they were being punished for reporting sexual assaults, and a Pentagon investigation led to the replacement or demotion of top commanders.

According to a report by the Pentagon's inspector general last spring, more than half of the women enrolled at the nation's three military academies said they had been sexually harassed, and more than one in 10 said they had been sexually assaulted.

But the surveys revealed that many midshipmen were not reporting incidents, in part because of personal loyalties and in part because superiors weren't setting a proper tone.

Rempt noted that more incidents had been reported since the academy agreed in 2003 to provide limited confidentiality to those bringing complaints. Limited confidentiality allows midshipmen to report sexual harassment and misconduct without triggering a full military investigation.

Under Rempt, the academy that year also expelled a midshipman after it was found that he'd had inappropriate contact with at least three women. The academy had brought rape charges against the 24-year-old male midshipman but dropped them after his accuser, a former Mid, refused to comply with a judge's order to testify about sexual abuse she said she had suffered as a child.

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