Sexual misconduct continues, but academy shows progress

January 17, 2007|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,sun reporter

For the second straight year, the Naval Academy had the lowest incidence of sexual assault among the nation's service academies, although such misconduct persists, according to a new Pentagon report.

More than 8 percent of the 753 female midshipmen surveyed by the Defense Manpower Data Center reported experiencing "unwanted sexual contact," compared with 9 percent at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and 10 percent at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.

Because the surveys broadened the definition of sexual assault, Defense Department officials yesterday said the figures should not be compared with last year, when 4.4 percent of women at the Annapolis military college said they experienced sexual assault.

The report, released without fanfare Friday, also found that the percentage of female midshipmen saying they had been sexually harassed has fallen, from 59 percent in 2005 to 52 percent last year.

"We are encouraged by the results of this survey," said Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, the academy superintendent, in a written response to questions. "Sexual harassment, misconduct and assault are not tolerated in the Navy and Marine Corps and they are not tolerated at the Naval Academy. We will continue aggressive efforts to discourage sexual harassment, misconduct, or assault because it is contrary to all we are trying to do and achieve here at the Academy."

Congress ordered the service academies to conduct the surveys starting in 2005 after a sex scandal at the Air Force Academy two years earlier.

Despite "zero tolerance" policies at all the schools, as well as "prevention and response" programs aimed at reducing the incidence of misconduct, a majority of women at the schools said they experienced sexist behavior.

At the Naval Academy, the figure was 86 percent, down from 93 percent the year before. About a third of the female population said they experienced "stalking-related" behaviors, 78 percent crude or offensive behavior, 39 percent unwanted sexual attention and 8 percent sexual coercion.

In a written statement, an academy spokesman said that increases in some forms of sexual harassment indicate "a better understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment resulting from more focused training," rather than in increase in harassing behavior.

Still, the data indicated that midshipmen have responded favorably to some of the academy efforts to prevent sexual assault and reform the macho culture. Ninety-five percent of women said they had received the new training, and 88 percent believed it was effective. Female students also said they believed midshipmen leaders, officers, faculty and senior leaders were "making honest and reasonable" attempts to stop assault and harassment.

"These numbers indicate that we may be moving on the iceberg," said Anita Sanchez, spokeswoman for the Miles Foundation, a victim advocacy group that focuses on sexual assault in the military. "We're still not sure how large the iceberg is, but there's some movement on the iceberg."

But 36 percent of women believe sexual assault has become less of a problem than when they enrolled at the academy, compared to 53 percent last year.

Those results come after the high-profile court-martial of Lamar S. Owens, the most valuable player on Navy's 2005 bowl-winning football team, who was acquitted of rape charges in July.bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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