by Pam Zubeck
Nine days after the Pentagon released a congressionally mandated report that showed a 58 percent increase of sexual assault at the three main service academies, the Air Force Academy has announced today that three cadets have been charged with sexual misconduct in unrelated incidents.
The cadets include a member of the 2011 graduating class, a current senior (class of 2012) and a junior (class of 2013).
Brig. Gen. Richard Clark, the AFA commandant of cadets, informed the Cadet Wing of the charges at the lunch formation in Mitchell Hall.
Here is the press release, just sent from the academy:
UCMJ CHARGES PREFERRED AGAINST THREE CADETS
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. - Commanders preferred charges involving sexual misconduct against three cadets today for violations against the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
A male cadet (Class of 2011) had three charges preferred against him.
Charge 1 has one specification of violating Article 92, engaging in an unprofessional relationship; charge 2 has four specifications of violating Article 120, rape, aggravated sexual contact, and indecent acts; charge 3 is a violation of Article 133, conduct unbecoming an officer.
A male cadet (Class of 2012) had 1 charge with 2 specifications preferred against him for violation of Article 120, aggravated sexual assault.
A male cadet (Class of 2013) had four charges preferred against him. Charge 1 has one specification of an attempt to engage in misconduct that would be a violation of Article 120, abusive sexual contact; charge 2 has one specification of violating Article 92, underage drinking; charge 3 is a violation of Article 120, abusive sexual contact; charge 4 has three specifications of violating Article 128, assault.
"The alleged misconduct in each of the three cases is unrelated, it occurred at different times over the last fifteen months, and Academy officials received victims' reports at various times. The fact that the charges in all three cases are being preferred at this time is due to the near simultaneous completion of each individual investigation," said Col. Tamra Rank, the Academy's vice superintendent.
"Each case will be adjudicated independently and the accused in each case is presumed innocent until proven guilty," she said. "We take these allegations seriously. Sexual misconduct is a particularly egregious offense and we have a zero tolerance policy in the Air Force."
Counsel for the government and defense are working on the dates and times for an Article 32 hearing for each case, which will most likely be late January or early February. An Article 32 hearing is equivalent to a civilian grand jury proceeding. An investigating officer (typically a Judge Advocate) presides over an Article 32 hearing, and submits his or her report of the proceedings to the Superintendent, who is the installation general
court martial convening authority. The Superintendent will then decide if the case will go to trial.
"We expect the best from our cadets, and do not tolerate unacceptable behaviors," Rank said.
There was no other official comment from AFA officials.
The DoD report, which covered the academic year from June 1, 2010, to May 31, 2011, found there were 65 sexual assaults at the academies compared to 41 the previous year.
At the Air Force Academy, sexual assaults increased from 20 to 33, the highest number since the DoD began conducting the survey in response to the Air Force Academy's sexual assault scandal that broke in 2003 and cost some leaders their jobs and led to an overhaul of sexual assault education and reporting procedures. This chart from the DoD report shows how the Air Force Academy compares to its peer schools.
However, the Pentagon report praised the Air Force Academy for strides in its policies surrounding sexual assault:
The United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) is in compliance with the Department’s policies regarding sexual harassment and assault for APY 10-11. USAFA’s SAPR and POSH Programs are mature and robust. These programs were taken seriously and given the appropriate attention at the Academy. USAFA has implemented innovative and unique ideas to draw awareness to this issue and provided support to victims. However, there are areas for continued improvement of USAFA’s program.
The report also noted that it's impossible to know if the uptick in crimes is merely a result of more cadets and midshipmen reporting they were attacked, rather than an increase in the incidence of such crimes. Picking up on that point, the Air Force Academy's vice commandant for culture and climate Col. Reni Renner told the Gazette last week that an increased number of cadets coming forward suggests they trust they'll get help. She also said she expects the numbers to continue to rise because of that growing trust.
In response to the increasing numbers, the Pentagon announced two policy changes involving restricted reports (those in which alleged victims don't reveal their identity) and unrestricted reports (those in which alleged victims do disclose).
Under a new policy on expedited transfers, service members who have been the victim of sexual assault and have filed an Unrestricted Report now have the option to request an expedited transfer from their unit and/or installation. The service member must receive a response to the transfer request from the unit commander within 72 hours, and can request a review of any denied request by a General/Flag Officer (or SES equivalent) in the chain of command and receive that response within the next 72 hours.
The second new policy standardizes the retention periods for sexual assault records across the military services. In unrestricted cases, specified documents will be retained for 50 years and in restricted cases, for five years, to ensure victims have extended access to documents related to the sexual assault.