- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2008

ANNAPOLIS | Officials from the country’s four service academies will meet next month to help standardize reporting of sexual assaults, a Naval Academy administrator said Tuesday.

The Pentagon requires the academies to report “substantiated” sexual assaults. But a report earlier this year found the Defense Department has not defined the term, leading to different standards for what gets reported at each academy.

The officials will discuss the issue at a conference in Tampa, Fla., from July 22 to July 24. Guidelines could come from the Pentagon within the year, said Capt. Ricks Polk, the Naval Academy’s outgoing sexual-assault response coordinator.

“A lot of times it’s an ‘only-two-people-in-the-room’ kind of thing, and you’ve got to kind of try and help sort that out,” Capt. Polk said at the academy’s Board of Visitors meeting in Annapolis.

The academies have faced scrutiny since 2003, when women at the Air Force Academy said they had been sexually assaulted by fellow cadets over the previous decade and were either ignored or ostracized by commanders when they came forward. Sexual-assault allegations have also surfaced since then at the Naval and Coast Guard academies.

A report earlier this year by the Government Accountability Office found the academies have made strides to address sexual-harassment problems. But the agency, the investigative arm of Congress, recommended the Defense Department adopt comprehensive and uniform reporting requirements to analyze incident data, survey results and academy programs to better inform members of Congress.

The agency’s report examined programs at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn.

The Naval Academy recently completed the first year of its peer-led Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention Education program, which academy officials say has increased awareness and led to better discussions.

In other Naval Academy business, Vice Adm. Jeffrey L. Fowler, the academy’s superintendent, updated the board on efforts to increase minority attendance. Adm. Fowler, who has described increasing diversity as his top priority, told the board that 28 percent of students in the Class of 2012 are minorities, the highest number in academy history.

The academy is working to extend outreach programs through preparatory schools that focus on readying future midshipmen and through members of Congress, who appoint students to the academy. The academy also is working to attract more minority students to a summer program that gave 800 people a firsthand look at the school for a week.



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