AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – The first investigative report of sexual assaults at the Air Force Academy (search) shows no "systemic acceptance" of abuse, but critics of the probe say it fails to identify the root of the problems and who was to blame.
The report, released Thursday, said there was no indication the academy accepted sexual assaults (search) or avoided the issue.
"I think we are more than disappointed about this," said Kate Summers of the nonprofit Miles Foundation (search), which helps victims of violence in the military.
Sen. Wayne Allard, whose office has received dozens of complaints of sexual assault or abuse, called the report a good-faith effort to suggest ways to deal with future problems, but said it came up short.
"I thought that the Air Force tried to use language that didn't hold the academy and the academy officials fully responsible, and I was disappointed in that regard," Allard said.
"I think there is a systemic problem and I think that their recommendations suggest that, but I think they tried to deny that in their report," he said.
The panel of Air Force officials found "no institutional avoidance of responsibility or systemic maltreatment of cadets who report sexual assault."
But it concluded that attention to sexual assault has dwindled in recent years among leaders at the academy outside Colorado Springs.
The panel, led by Air Force general counsel Mary Walker, reviewed 142 reports of sexual assault or abuse since 1993. The panel also said the academy's sexual assault policy has an overly broad definition of what constitutes an attack.
It said first-year cadets were especially vulnerable because of a command structure that makes them subordinate to upperclassmen. Freshman made up 53 percent of the victims but only 29 percent of the student body.
The panel recommended assertiveness training for first-year cadets and a re-evaluation of the cadet command structure. In addition, it recommended better training for cadets and counselors, better monitoring of gender attitudes and changes to the system of confidential reporting that made many cases impossible to investigate.
It also recommended amnesty for cadets who report sexual assault.
Acting superintendent Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida said most of the recommendations will be implemented by the time classes start this fall, and many have already been made.
"We're turning over rocks, plowing the fields to make sure everything we do here is about excellence and conducive to creating a climate of trust and confidence," he said.
Change will take time, he warned. "This is a cultural issue. It's not going to be solved by a couple of speeches or a couple of written guidances."
Air Force Secretary James G. Roche formed the panel in January after female cadets alleged that leaders were dismissive of their complaints of sexual assaults and in some cases punished the victims for rules infractions.
Weida said new cadets scheduled to arrive next week will be told about the changes. They and other cadets, staff and faculty will be reminded that they have an obligation and responsibility not to obey unlawful orders and to report information they have on sexual assaults or other violations.
Cari Davis, executive director of the Colorado Springs rape-crisis center TESSA, said not enough was being done to protect victims' confidentiality, but said she was encouraged that other changes have begun.
"We'll see. It's hard to say whether it will work or not. We probably won't be able to measure it until a decade from now," Davis said.
Walker said the panel was assigned to look at policies and practices, not to assign blame. She said Roche is determining whether anyone prevented the reporting of assaults or if any leaders failed to act on information they were given.
Also investigating are the inspectors general of the Air Force and Defense Department and a panel established by Congress.