- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2006

A comparison of surveys of students at the nation’s three major service academies shows a decrease in the number of sexual-harassment complaints since the scandals of the early 1990s.

In recent months, much attention has been focused on a scandal at the Air Force Academy, in which women’s complaints about sexual assaults were ignored. The ensuing investigations led to a rash of press reports and investigations that implied that sexual harassment at the military’s academies had worsened.

But a newly released survey by the Pentagon, when compared with one done by the General Accounting Office (GAO) in 1994, shows that fewer female cadets and midshipmen complained about sexual harassment. The new study, the Service Academy 2005 Sexual Harassment and Assault Survey (SASA), was mandated by Congress for 2005 and will be repeated for the next two years.

The 1994 report by the GAO, now the Government Accountability Office, said 70 percent or more of surveyed women at West Point, the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy complained about some type of sexual harassment.

When SASA polled those schools’ female students in April, the numbers were 49 percent at the Air Force Academy, 59 percent of Naval midshipmen and 62 percent of Army cadets at West Point.

The progress seems to be even greater when SASA numbers are compared with the GAO’s initial 1991 study, in which nearly all 1,415 female students, 97 percent, reported being sexually harassed.

“Yes, there is a significant improvement there in the forms of ‘sexist behaviors’ listed in the SASA survey,” said Elaine Donnelly, who directs the Center for Military Readiness. “But you would never know it from the report itself or news reports about it.”

The GAO investigation came at a tumultuous time in the “battle of the sexes” inside the armed forces. The Navy’s 1991 Tailhook scandal, in which Navy aviators groped women at a convention in Las Vegas, put a spotlight on sexual harassment throughout the military. Task forces and inspectors general did a series of investigations that resulted in new preventive training and an easier way to report abuses.

Mrs. Donnelly said she thinks the training has helped reduce incidents of sexual harassment, but says the Pentagon is doing a poor job of pointing out the progress.

For example, the portion of the SASA study that focused on the reserve military component showed women reporting sexual assault was at 2 percent.

“Sounds like a steep decline, but the DoD press release didn’t present it that way,” Mrs. Donnelly said, referring to the Department of Defense.

The reserve study was the first of its kind by the Pentagon, but Mrs. Donnelly said a previous 2002 survey by the Department of Veteran Affairs showed a 5 percent rate of assaults among all military women.

Mrs. Donnelly also said the survey failed to explore how many complaints of sexual harassment were fraudulent. She pointed to a 2004 study by the Pentagon’s inspector general, which found that 73 percent of women at the three academies said bogus complaints were a problem.

“Unfair perceptions of widespread sexual abuse at the service academies, created by self-interested civilian ‘victim advocates’ who are subsidized by the Defense Department, have continued and gotten worse,” she said.

The latest task force on the issue — the Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies — took a somewhat different view.

“Historically, sexual harassment and sexual assault have been inadequately addressed at both academies,” said the June 2005 report, referring to West Point and the Naval Academy. “Although progress has been made, hostile attitudes and inappropriate actions toward women … continue to hinder the establishment of a safe and professional environment in which to prepare future military officers.”

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