No simple explanation in AF Academy sex crime data

By Dan Elliott

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Jan. 22 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Cressy's civilian lawyer, Richard Stevens, did not immediately return a phone call. Claxton's military attorney, Capt. Nicole Torres, declined comment. The academy said Evenson's civilian lawyer asked not to be identified.

Hearings are expected to begin next week. Air Force attorneys haven't yet calculated sentencing ranges for any convictions, said academy spokesman Meade Warthen.

It's unclear what effect prosecutions have on encouraging victims to come forward. Beasley said she believes that in general, prosecutions reassure victims that they'll be taken seriously. But a sex-crime court-martial at the academy in the 2008-2009 school year led to an acquittal, and reports of sexual assaults plummeted that year, from 24 to eight.

The academy's sex assault prevention campaign starts before freshman studies begin. Among other things, cadets are told the Department of Defense definition of sexual assault includes "intentional sexual contact ... when the victim does not or cannot consent."

The breadth of the definition comes as a surprise to some.

"When they come in at basic, you see the 'deer-in-the-headlight' look — 'Wow, I didn't realize I'd been assaulted,'" Beasley said.

By the time cadets are seniors, the training includes what their roles as officers will be, including what to do when someone brings a sex-assault complaint.

Manning said academy officials are "trying their level best."

"I think it's a problem we won't totally solve ever. But I think there's room for one less this year, two less next year," she said.

Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, said in an interview the day of Panetta's announcement that the military culture has "run amok" and the rules for handling sexual abuse need an overhaul. She has introduced a bill that would create a separate system within the military to investigate and prosecute sex crimes.

Currently, a victim's commander might be part of the decision-making process. That creates a conflict of interest; the commander could suffer career damage if a subordinate is victimized; the commander could be a friend of the suspect; or the commander could be the suspect, Speier said.

"We've got to do something fairly dramatic to get the academies back on track and the military back on track," she said.

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