Pentagon officials on Tuesday placed the blame for the Air Force Academy's sexual assault scandal last year on a failed chain of command that involved eight high-ranking officials who did not recognize the severity of the problem.
Over the past 10 years, those officials failed to fix the culture that led to the abuses, did not act as good role models, failed to give enough attention to those under their command, and failed to guard against sexual misconduct among cadets, according to a new report from Defense Department Inspector General Joseph Schmitz.
The long-awaited reports are the culmination of an investigation that began when several current and former female Air Force Academy cadets came forward in February 2003 with sexual assault charges. They said they were advised not to report the incidents.
Since then, academy leaders have been replaced, and investigations into the scandal, which involved more than 50 cadets, have spread across the entire military community.
At a press conference Tuesday, Defense Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness David Chu said the reports are evidence of a history of sexual assault in the armed services. "It is not a proud history, but it is a history from which we must learn," Chu said.
One of the most visible changes at the academy is the removal of a sign that stated "Bring Me Men" near its entrance.
Chu said that one of the most crucial issues is establishing a policy for victim confidentiality. "We have learned that providing confidentiality to victims will actually increase the probability that cases will be reported, cases that are currently unknown to us," he said.
Chu said the Pentagon will establish a policy of confidential reporting by Jan. 1 that will help sexual assault victims and improve the "climate for reporting incidents of assault."
Schmitz said in a memorandum that he disagrees "with changes which address confidentiality concerns without simultaneously ensuring timely and effective involvement by law enforcement."
Civilian experts on victims of sexual assault said they are awaiting the specifics of the Pentagon's new policy.
"We're anticipating what the details will be," said Anita Sanchez, spokeswoman for the Miles Foundation, a nonprofit group that assists military service members who are victims of sexual assault. "This is only the second time that the U.S. armed forces have acknowledged that there is a serious problem with sexual assault … there has been an acknowledgement in the failures of the system--or, as the military calls it, the leadership."
Sanchez said that the Pentagon's verbal promise of confidentiality Tuesday might be enough to encourage more victims to come forward and report instances of sexual misconduct.
The Miles Foundation has received 273 reports of sexual assault in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Bahrain, of which 199 are from the Army, 32 from the Navy, 45 from the Air Force, 67 from the Marines and 10 from the Coast Guard.
Militarywide policy changes are due by the end of the year, which would include a confidentiality policy, under a congressional order in fiscal 2005 Defense authorization legislation.