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Rape Charges Continue to Unfold at Air Force Academy; Pentagon Criticized for Disbanding Sexual Assault Committee

With widespread reports of sexual assault against female cadets continuing to surface at a Colorado Air Force Academy, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has come under fire for disbanding a panel that addressed sexual assault throughout the military. In February 2002, Rumsfeld allowed the charter on the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) to expire after anti-feminist reactionary groups claimed that the panel was fostering “radical feminism” and was no longer needed because “women had been fully integrated into the military,” the New York Times reported.

A recent rash of reports that officials at the Colorado Springs Air Force Academy were allegedly punishing women cadets who reported sexual assaults by fellow students is just one example of widespread problems with sexual harassment and abuse for women in the military. In 1995, more than one in three women had been exposed to “unwelcome deliberate physical contact of a sexual nature,” and would hesitate to report incidents for fear of punishment, according to a study by the General Accounting Office of the US Congress as reported in the Times. More than 70 to 80 percent of women at military academies had experienced recurrent sexual harrasment, the same study showed. The DACOWITS allowed women to address issues of sexual abuse and harassment in private and helped them to take action.

“Every female cadet gets labeled in the first year,” one female Air Force Academy cadet who chose to remain anonymous for fear of retribution told the Washington Post. “You’re either a slut or a prude. If you date anybody, you’re automatically a slut, and the other guys think you’re fair game. If a woman has a problem, everybody knows you’d better not report it, because the commandant’s office will side with the guys.”

There have been 96 reports of sexual assault to the Academy’s rape hotline since 1996; only 20 cases have been formally investigated, eight cadets have been dismissed, and no cadets have been court-martialed for assault. In addition, high-ranking officials have been accused; one victim recently reported that she had been assaulted by a colonel, according to the Times. Meanwhile, a 13-year-old participant in a sports camp on the academy grounds reported that she was assaulted by a 22-year-old cadet, the Times reported.

Media Resources: New York Times 3/2/03; Washington Post 2/28/03; Associated Press 3/2/03



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