Pentagon Says Academies Aren't Confronting Sexual Harassment Properly

Hostile attitudes and inappropriate treatment of women persist at the U.S. Military Academy (search) at West Point and the Naval Academy (search), a Pentagon task force says in a new study.

The panel called for better training of future officers at the academies, saying the value of women in the military should be better emphasized. It said present training regarding sexual harassment and assault issues is inadequate, resulting in misunderstandings by cadets and midshipmen about how to obtain medical care, counseling and legal assistance.

"The sexual harassment and assault training programs at both academies are not effective in conveying key concepts," the task force said in a report issued Thursday. The study's authors included several military officers and experts on sexual harassment and assault issues.

The "Report of the Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Violence and the Military Service Academies" (search) is the latest to deal with sexual issues and cultural attitudes at the military academies after a scandal at the Air Force Academy surfaced in January 2003.

Other studies have focused on the Air Force Academy (search), and its leadership has been replaced. But Congress also requested a look at the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md.

The new study credited both academies with making progress in addressing some sexual harassment and assault issues, particularly in improving services to victims. But it called for putting more women in leadership roles at the two academies and said more women should be admitted as cadets and midshipmen.

"Some research shows that a 'critical mass' can make a difference in creating an environment that has a markedly positive effect on the acceptance and integration of women in a mostly male community, resulting in decreased incidence of sexual harassment and assault," the report said. "Admissions standards and service needs should not be compromised in this effort."

The task force said that harassment at the academies included jokes and offensive stories of sexual exploits, derogatory terms for women, offensive gestures, repeated, unwanted propositions for dates or sex, and offering to trade academic favors — like a positive evaluation — for sexual acts.

In March, the military released results of surveys at all three military academies. Women at the academies reported they have faced some 300 incidents of sexual assault since they enrolled, a figure the military says is comparable to civilian schools.

More than 50 percent of female respondents and 11 percent of male respondents indicated experiencing some type of sexual harassment since entering the schools, the task force said.

Last year, nearly 150 women came forward with accusations that they had been sexually assaulted by fellow cadets between 1993 and 2003. Many alleged they were punished, ignored or ostracized by commanders for speaking out.