- Jason Gutierrez
- Sexual assault has long been a problem at the Academy.
The U.S. Air Force Academy's program to combat sexual assault is under the microscope, according to a statement issued on June 30.
Though the Academy Public Affairs Office wasn't specific, it said in a statement that when Academy leaders "learned there were issues" in the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPR), they initiated an investigation. The probe, which started about a month ago and has involved dozens of interviews, is ongoing.
The statement said little can be revealed due to "privacy concerns of those involved."
"We can say that attorneys and leadership at USAFA have reviewed the report of the investigation and are taking appropriate actions," the statement said. The Academy further stated that "some members" of the prevention and response office "are no longer performing SAPR duties," but a source with knowledge of the matter tells the Independent that all six people who staffed the office have been placed on paid leave.
While the Academy said "taking care of victims is our top priority and we are ensuring we have the right personnel and protocols in place to provide the best care possible," the statement didn't say who would be standing in for those personnel removed from the SAPR office. "We are confident that there has been no degradation in victim care and support," the statement said, noting the Academy has a "multi-pronged approach" for dealing with victims and "combating" sexual assault.
"We have a comprehensive safety net of helping agencies for victim care that includes medical care, counseling, chaplains, peer support, law enforcement and a special victims' counsel — a legal expert who is with them every step of the way. Leaders up and down the chain of command emphasize prevention through education and a healthy culture and climate."
The Academy has a long history of issues surrounding sexual assault. Notably, in 2003 dozens of victims accused the Academy of penalizing them for reporting their sexual assaults while letting the attackers go unpunished and allowing them to graduate. A slew of changes were put in place at that time, including adjusting campus rules and beefing up a training program for preventing sexual assault. But over the years, the Academy has led the way among service academies for numbers of sexual assaults.
The most recent Defense Department survey, an offshoot of the 2003 scandal that's conducted annually, showed that 32 reports were logged during academic year 2015-16, compared with 26 at the Military Academy and 28 at the Naval Academy. Since the survey began in 2007-08, the Academy has tallied 287 reports — more than the 267 reported at the other two academies combined.
The Defense Department report noted the Air Force Academy ran a pilot during the 2016-17 academic year for a new training program called Cadet Healthy Interpersonal Skills that "focuses on improving healthy interpersonal relationships, decision making, and identifying risky and potentially violent behaviors." Despite that and other efforts among the academies, the Pentagon report recommended that all academies work on prevention efforts and "expand local expertise to incorporate more primary prevention resources."