- Griffin Swartzell
- Teresa Beasley, who worked with victims of sexual assault at the Academy, says false reports are very rare.
Teresa Beasley has been a sexual assault response coordinator for 30 years. She had served at the Air Force Academy since 2007, until being escorted from her office on June 30 and told her personal belongings would be mailed to her.
It was a dark day when the Academy also placed three others in the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office on leave pending an investigation it won't discuss. And it came less than two weeks before the Defense Department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Resource Office (SAPRO) team arrived on July 10 for the Academy's biennial review.
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Beasley says simply that when she and others started speaking up about punitive tactics the Academy used against alleged victims, the Academy lowered the boom.
"That's why they put us on administrative leave," she says.
Beasley sees the action as payback to victim advocates who stood up for cadets and against senior leaders' bias of disbelief that minimizes sexual assaults and penalizes those who report — and even assigns mental health diagnoses to pave the way for victims' exit from the Academy.
During her long career working with sexual assault victims in the military, Beasley says she's taken only two reports that she later learned were false.
"People don't lie about sexual assault," she says.
Academy officials say that all claims of retaliation against victims will be investigated, and that cadets see the Academy's atmosphere as protective. They noted that nearly 99 percent of cadets responding to an anonymous survey conducted by the Defense Department said that senior leaders, officers in charge of units and cadet leaders "make honest and reasonable efforts to stop sexual harassment and sexual assault." But the survey, conducted in March and April 2016, wasn't that optimistic.
The data show that female cadets said 79 percent of senior leaders and only 49 percent of cadet leaders make those efforts to a "large extent," while 20 percent of senior leaders and 49 percent of cadet leaders show "moderate/small" efforts.
Beasley's trouble began about three years ago, she says, after she and another victim advocate were told by a cadet that a provider at the Academy's Peak Performance Center, a counseling office, sexually harassed her. The cadet filed a complaint with the Pentagon Inspector General's Office because she didn't trust the Academy, Beasley says. Beasley and her colleague gave statements on the cadet's behalf to the Academy's Inspector General's Office, which was assigned the case, though both worried their comments wouldn't be kept confidential.
Indeed the statements were shared with their chain of command and the Peak Performance Center. Then Beasley was threatened with an investigation, she says. It was the beginning of what she calls "increased scrutiny" of every perceived misstep Beasley made in her work.
"I have been reprised against for doing the right thing," she wrote in a July 2015 "memorandum for record" regarding the leak of her statement, which she says was a "protected communication." She's since sent the memo to the Pentagon IG.
Also in summer 2015, Beasley discovered some sexual assault reports had been removed from the Defense Sexual Assault Incident Database (DSAID) for the 2014-15 school year by officials at the Air Force. DSAID is the basis for reports sent to Congress annually about assaults at all three service academies. In mid-May, two weeks before the end of that academic year, rules were changed to require cadets sign a Form 2910, used throughout the armed services, including the academies, when reporting sexual assault. The form outlines the allegations and states whether a cadet is willing or not to have the case investigated. Before then, cadets weren't required to sign the form for their cases to be counted in DSAID, Beasley says.
The new rule meant the Academy didn't have to include dozens of cases for that year, she says. If counted, those cases would have pushed the Academy to a record high for sexual assaults that year. After the Form 2910 rule had been in place for a year, the number of reports dropped — from 49 in 2014-15 to 32 in 2015-16, records show, which might suggest cadet victims didn't fill out Form 2910s, Beasley says.
Beasley flagged the problem in a written statement to the Defense Department's SAPRO in mid-2015, which she says spawned more efforts to punish her. In late 2016, Beasley filed a formal complaint with the Pentagon IG Office, saying the Academy retaliated against her after she noted the underreporting problem.
"My statement made to DoD was made with the intent to help identify and solve the issue of underreporting, which DoD states is one of the biggest issues we need to overcome," her IG complaint says.
To detect trends, all data on assaults need to be collected, she says, noting sexual assault is a vastly underreported crime and may be more so at the Academy, where Beasley alleges a "culture of fear" is pervasive and "cadets believe they cannot be seen as 'weak' (i.e. a victim)." Thus, she said, they're afraid to sign Form 2910, which, in turn, leads Academy leaders to disbelieve them.
That stance drew efforts from Academy leaders to undermine her credibility, stunt her role in the sexual assault prevention program and ban her from entering cases in DSAID, among other things, the complaint says. In another instance, Beasley says she was rebuffed for proposing cadet training include a warning about sponsor families, local people who support cadets, after two cadets reported they were sexually assaulted by sponsor family members. She acknowledges the Academy has since beefed up background checks of sponsor families.
Besides detecting trends, Beasley says more thorough reporting would assure services are available to victims: "We will have no documentation for the victim, for future VA benefits, if it does not go into the database. It is like the assault never happened."
In written responses to questions, the Academy noted it follows the Form 2910 rules and is sensitive to retaliation; in fact, the Academy says victim advocates report monthly about reprisal. "It's vital that Airmen have confidence in our sexual assault prevention system; enough confidence to make a report without any fear of retribution," the Academy says.
Moreover, Academy spokesman Lt. Col. Timothy Herritage says every cadet who reports is assigned a special victims counsel to guide them, which includes protesting if they experience reprisal. "We take retaliation very seriously," Herritage says. "Any report of retaliation is investigated thoroughly."
But Beasley's IG complaint notes she's heard senior leaders say, "We have too many reports," and "You need to get those numbers down," and that having too many reports makes the Academy "look bad."
As Beasley sees it, the Academy has a distorted view of sexual assault, from which other problems arise.
"They think victims have sex in dorm rooms, that it's consensual sex," she says. "Sexual assault isn't sex. They have to stop punishing victims — I think they've been through enough. This has got to stop."