Washington, D.C.- A Pentagon report, released last week, gave insight into how students at service academies feel about sexual harassment and the steps the military can take to curtail the problem.
The congressionally mandated report showed reports of military sexual assault and harassment at the various academies have decreased. But Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, director of the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) said he was unclear if the decreases were due to fewer incidents occurring or whether cadets are just reluctant to file a complaint.
Sexual assault and harassment complaints at U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York, the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., decreased from 80 to 70 for the school year ending in May, the Associated Press reported. The majority of the complaints, two-thirds, originated from the Air Force Academy. The incidents can range from sexual comments to rape.
As part of their effort to reduce sexual assault and harassment, SAPRO conducted focus groups to determine why this inappropriate behavior persists within the military.
The individuals in the focus group told Pentagon leaders that a sexist culture persists at the academies, especially among sports teams and clubs, indicating that expanded training and prevention in this area is necessary if the military hopes to get the problem under control.
Eighty to ninety percent of female respondents said they had been subjected to sexist comments in the past year.
“The rates for crude and offensive behavior – this is your typical locker room talk – and for sexist behavior on the 2012 survey – those were high,” said Elizabeth Van Winkle, deputy branch chief of the Defense Manpower Data Center, which conducted the focus groups with students at the academies.
Van Winkle said the one of the intentions of the focus groups was to determine if the unusually high rate of sexist comments was accurate and responses from the participants indicated the Pentagon data was accurate.
Nathan Galbreath, the Pentagon’s senior executive adviser to SAPRO, said sexist comments were troubling to the Pentagon since there is a “strong positive correlation between the experience of sexual harassment and the eventual sexual assault of people in military units.”
The report also showed that alcohol is often a contributing factor in sexual assaults and this is an area that the Pentagon should focus on.
Students said peer pressure was one of the primary reasons they are discouraged from reporting sexual assault and harassment. They believe when sexual assault or harassment is prosecuted on campuses, the incidents should be publicized while protecting the anonymity of the victims.
The Pentagon wanted to know if the cadets believed that many cadets responsible for assault and harassment or was there just a handful of problem students. The participating cadets said they did not believe that all male cadets acted inappropriately and the problem is perpetuated by a small number of students who have a pattern of sexist behavior.
The Pentagon, which has faced heavy criticism over the past year for failing to prevent sexual assault and harassment in the military hopes the report will give them insight into how to change the sexist culture of the military and protect service members from rape, assault and harassment.
Earlier this month, President Obama signed a bill that took prosecutions of sexual assault out of the hands of military leaders and prohibits them from overturning judgments in assault cases. The bill also requires a dishonorable discharge for any service member found guilty of assault or rape.