USAFA reports show increased trust in system, better reporting
Teresa Beasley poses in front of a sign to reinforce the goal to stop sexual assaults. Beasley is the Air Force Academy's sexual assault response coordinator. (U.S. Air Force photo/Don Branum)
by Don Branum
Air Force Academy Public Affairs
1/8/2013 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- An increase in reports of sexual assault at the Air Force Academy, the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy reflect more trust in the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program -- a silver lining and proof that the "system" is working, the Academy's sexual assault response coordinator said Dec. 21.
Referring to the Defense Department's Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies, Teresa Beasley said that the prevalence of sexual assault is statistically about the same as in previous years, according to climate surveys conducted here, but the number of reports jumped 63 percent.
Another sign of greater trust in the reporting system is that survivors who have previously reported sexual assaults have referred people to the SARC office, said Col. Reni Renner, the vice commandant of cadets for culture and climate here, according to the report.
"The bottom line ... is trust," Beasley added. "We do a good job of taking care of our survivors. I consider anyone who walks into my office a victory, because the counseling they get here is fabulous."
Treatment programs like cognitive therapy behavior, offered through the Peak Performance Center, can help prevent trauma from mentally scarring victims of sexual assault, Beasley said.
The Academy received 52 reports in the 2011 academic year, Renner said. Of those reports, 31 were restricted, which allows victims to obtain health and counseling services without triggering a criminal investigation. The other 21 were unrestricted reports, which allows the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Judge Advocate office to open formal criminal investigations.
Officials can use both restricted and unrestricted reports to identify trends and mitigate scenarios that might allow an assault to take place, Renner said.
"The goal is always to eliminate sexual assault," Renner said. "The more we know about the incidents that do happen, the better we can help victims to become survivors.
"The reporting rates allow us to have data for prevention programs, policy changes, things we can do procedurally and training-wise," she said. "Unrestricted reports allow us to investigate and go to court."
Several sexual assault cases have gone to military courts here in 2012. A court-martial in June convicted former cadet Stephan Claxton of wrongful sexual contact, attempted abusive sexual contact, four counts of assault and dereliction of duty for drinking underage and sentenced him to six months' confinement and dismissal from the Academy, according to an Air Force Personnel Center report.
Charges against Cadet 2nd Class Anthony Daniels Jr. were investigated in an Article 32 hearing in November on charges of sodomy, attempted sodomy and unlawful sexual contact. Based on the investigating officer's report and the commandant's recommendation, Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould referred the charges to court-martial Nov. 30.
A third case, against Cadet 2nd Class Jamil Cooks, is proceeding to an Article 32 investigation this month on charges of attempted sodomy, aggravated sexual assault and aggravated sexual contact. Cooks was detained Dec. 4 when another potential victim came forward with an allegation of new misconduct. AFOSI is investigating potential charges of unlawful entry, housebreaking and indecent viewing. Cooks is currently in confinement at the Teller County Detention Center.
"Our actions show we simply will not tolerate misconduct, much less sexual assault," said Lt. Col. John Bryan, the Academy's director of public affairs. "(Cooks) spent his Christmas and holiday season behind bars for alleged sexual misconduct against other fellow cadets. That should send a clear message as to how serious we are."
Those three cases account for seven of the 21 unrestricted reports, Renner said. Another five reports are still under investigation.
Another bright spot in the report is that incidents of sexual assault at military academies have declined, Beasley said. Harassment can create an environment permissive of sexual assault.
"This is anecdotal, but I've seen a big increase in cadets coming in, saying, 'These are the behaviors, and I knew where it was headed,'" she said. "They're learning skills on how to say, 'Knock it off.'"
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Maj. Gen. Gary Patton, the Defense Department's SAPR office director, called for more progress in preventing sex crimes at the military academies during a press conference Dec. 21. The Academy will incorporate bystander intervention training into its future efforts to prevent sexual assault, Beasley said.
"Bystander intervention is a good way ahead because we're not there (where assaults happen), and (cadets) are," she said. "We're encouraging them to help each other as good wingmen."
The Air Force Academy remains committed to eliminating sexual assault, Beasley said.
"It's always discouraging to hear people are being assaulted. We have a higher duty," she said. "One is too many."