Has The Air Force Learned Its Lesson?

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air-forceAfter four U.S. Senators called for an investigation

of rape charges by female cadets at the U.S. Air Academy in Colorado Springs, the Defense Department plans to investigate all U.S. military academies, including those for the Navy, Army and Merchant Marine, CNN reported on March 19, 2003. As the scandal at the Air Force

Academy expanded, leaders had ordered a review of how the academy handles complaints. A 17 -member team of Air Force investigators spent about two weeks at the academy and recommended individual counselors for victims, greater authority to officers to monitor relations between the sexes and separate dorm areas for the sexes.

Critics of the last

proposal said integrating the sexes in the military–in units, living areas and work details–seemed to reduce sexual assaults because women were “more accepted and respected for their capabilities.”

After reporting rapes, the female cadets allegedly were treated as though they were lying, crazy or promiscuous. Other victims learned to keep silent, and most quietly left the academy.

How widespread is the problem? At least 56 allegations of rape or sexual assault have been made in the past 10 years, and officials believe there may be a hundred more who have not come forward. They have resulted in punishment for 21 male cadets for rape and other sex-related crimes: five went to jail, eight were expelled, eight were reprimanded, one was cleared and one still faces charges.

The academy set up a hotline that got at least 99 complaints, but most female cadets reportedly were afraid to use it because its staff was fellow cadets. One former cadet said, “I kept it all inside because the first thing you learn is to keep your mouth shut and not make waves. Reporting to the hot line could be like broadcasting it over campus. You never know.”

Another who left is Sharon Fullilove, whose mother is an Air Force colonel stationed there. “People have to understand, this is nothing like a normal college,” she said. “Upperclassmen are your superiors. You have to listen to them and obey their rules. You can’t tell them to get out. I didn’t feel safe.”She said that the campus climate considered women to be weak. “During sexual assault awareness week, people told us that if you make it through all four years without being sexually assaulted, you’re lucky. They also said if you want to have an Air Force career, you should not report it.” Her mother the colonel said, “They told me my daughter was a liar,” she said. “They looked me in the face, a fellow officer, a superior, and told me my daughter, who had been raped, was a liar.” Another former cadet said commanders responded to her rape allegation by charging her with violating rules against drinking, fraternizing with upperclassmen and having sex in the dormitory. Defending the school’s conduct was Brig. Gen. Taco Gilbert, who discussed a female cadet’s allegedly being raped after a night of drinking and playing strip poker. While he said there was “no justification” for the alleged assault, he said “when you put yourself in situations with

increased risk, you have to take increased precautions to mitigate those risks.” Kate Summers, speaking for the non-profit Miles Foundation that helps victims of military violence, said the military conditions people to use force. “The training at the academies is the use of control and use of power, and they’re being trained to command. Some take it too far.”

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