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  • “A Leadership Issue”: Increases in Sexual Harassment in Military Academies

    The number of sexual assaults reported at the nation’s three main military academies, the U.S. Naval Academy, Military Academy, and Air Force Academy, has risen from forty-one to sixty-five over the past academic year. These numbers, which are calculated in order to allow the Pentagon to assess the efficiency of anti-harassment and anti-violence policies, are now required to be computed every year pursuant to the 2007 John Warner National Defense Authorization Act. This bill, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush, apportioned $500 billion to the military and to other defense activities. The breakdown of reports attributed to the various academies in the previous academic year follows as such: the number of complaints filed at the Air Force Academy increased from twenty to thirty-three, the number at the Naval Academy doubled from eleven to twenty-two, and West Point reported ten, both this year and last.

    While it is clear that the issue of sexual assault in military academies is not improving, academy officials have proceeded to assign the blame everywhere else and appear to be ignoring the fact that the increase in sexual misconduct reports may be due to a flaw in the system itself. For instance, Reni Renner, vice commandant culture and climate at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, attempts to defuse the gravity of the problem by noting that five of the reports filed this year actually referred to instances that occurred prior to military service. Also, despite the above mentioned statistics, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta claims that “[t]his is a leadership issue” and that the right actions are being taken. Officials also ascribe the higher number of reports to the notions that cadets and midshipmen are now being encouraged to report sexual misconduct, are more aware of the types of behavior which constitute sexual assault, and are therefore more “comfortable” with coming forward to report their experiences.

    However, although officials claim otherwise, the Pentagon must recognize that the process of eliminating sexual assault in military academies is not yet complete and that further measures need to be taken since it recently announced the implementation of  two new policies designed  to aid abuse victims. First, service members who have been victimized and consequently file an “unrestricted” report, may request a speedy transfer from their unit or department and are entitled to receive a reply in regards to their request from the unit commander within 72 hours. In addition, such victims reserve the right to ask for a review of any denied request for transfer and must receive that response within 72 hours as well. While this new guideline represents a step in the right direction, will transferring the victim actually solve the problem? Will his position be replaced by someone who is perhaps content with his current position, but who must nevertheless be uprooted to fill the void left by the transferred victim?  Will the new service member now be susceptible to harassment by the same perpetrator? Although the Pentagon’s policy raises several questions, some of them may be answered by consulting with a competent sexual harassment lawyer in Orange County.

    The other burgeoning policy will require certain information to be preserved for a specified number of years in order to give victims an extended period of time to access documents pertaining to sexual assault. Again, while this rule constitutes a valiant effort by the Pentagon, will it serve to abolish sexual harassment and assault from the military culture? It appears that the old and new methods of handling sexual assault in military academies focus primarily on rectifying wrongs that have already been committed. Perhaps however, officials should concentrate more energy on establishing preventative strategies so as to decrease the amount of sexual harassment and sexual assault incidents (and complaints) altogether. Service members and the public at large should also consider consulting a sexual harassment lawyer in Orange County to prevent and remedy matters of sexual misconduct.