WASHINGTON – The Defense Department’s top internal auditor Tuesday said Air Force leaders over the past decade had failed to acknowledge the severity of sexual harassment at the service’s academy in Colorado, causing them to delay appropriate monitoring and corrective action that might have prevented a spate of assaults that burst into public attention last year.
A report by Inspector General Joseph Schmitz for the first time pointed fingers at specific Air Force officials who he said shared responsibility for creating, contributing to or tolerating an inadequate program for reporting sexual assaults. Although Schmitz did not name the officials in a public summary of his report, he told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that they include numerous superintendents of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
After allegations of widespread sexual harassment and assaults there arose in early 2003, a total of 142 cadets reported being sexually assaulted at the academy over the previous decade. An internal Air Force investigation initially assigned much of the blame to the behavior of cadets, but a panel appointed at congressional insistence later found flaws in that probe, which it said inappropriately shielded top Air Force leaders from responsibility and criticism.
Schmitz, in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dated Dec. 3, said that “we found many leaders in positions of authority who could have been better role models, could have been more vigilant in inspecting those placed under command, failed to guard against and suppress sexual misconduct between and among cadets … and failed to hold cadets accountable for such misconduct.”
The summary of Schmitz’s report said he found shortcomings in actions by eight Air Force officers and two legal counsels that helped keep “the magnitude of the problems from becoming visible to USAF leadership, and prevented effective criminal investigations.” But it also said investigators are still assessing “recent evidence that some senior officials may have been notified of sexual assault issues as early as July 2002.”
The report noted that multiple probes had found “a problematic cadet subculture” that included “negative male attitudes and actions towards women” and a level of order and discipline “significantly below the level expected at a premier military institution funded at taxpayer expense.”
A report released Tuesday by the Miles Foundation, which assists military personnel who are the victims of sexual assault, indicated that the problem is not confined to the Air Force. It said that 273 sexual assaults have been reported since August 2002 among U.S. troops deployed in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Bahrain, including 119 in the Army and 32 in the Navy.