By Barbara Starr
CNN Pentagon Correspondent
Reports of sexual assaults at three military service academies decreased for the 2012-13 academic year, but the Air Force Academy continued to have significantly more reports than the Army or Navy schools, according to a new report.
According to the report released Friday, the total number of sexual assault reports made in that academic year for all the schools was 70, down from 80 the previous year. It comes as several high-profile cases of misconduct in the military have come to light.
The Air Force Academy had 45 reports. Of those, 27 were filed as "restricted," meaning the victim did not want to pursue an investigation. The Navy had 15 reports, of which 11 were restricted. The Army had 10 reports, of which three were restricted.
The Air Force traditionally has had more reports, which some officials said may reflect the fact that its cadets feel more comfortable reporting cases. Of the 70 reports at all schools, 10 were made for events the victims experienced before entering the academies. The Department of Defense said that so far, it cannot yet determine whether the decrease in the number of cases reported in the last academic year was due to fewer assaults occurring or due to fewer victims opting to report assaults.
The report says the "vast majority of cadets and midshipmen generally appear to support the values of mutual respect and dignity. However, at each of the three academies there is evidence that some cadets and midshipmen disregarded academy policies and practices in these areas and engaged in gender-related misbehavior and misconduct, targeting fellow cadets and midshipmen as the focus of crude and offensive language and sexist comments." And there are concerns that "an unfortunate aspect of this problem is that the unacceptable behavior of a very few was ignored, tolerated or condoned" by students aware of the misconduct.
The report comes as the Pentagon is reviewing preliminary reporting data for the 2013 fiscal year. It appears that there will be slightly more than 5,000 reports of sexual assaults, according to a Pentagon official. This is a 50% increase from the prior year. But so far, the Pentagon cannot say if that number represents an increase in the rate of overall sexual assault crimes or an increase in overall numbers of reports made, because there is no updated data surveying the entire military.
Officials are cautious in drawing conclusions but say the increase may reflect that victims are simply more willing to come forward. Ten percent of the reports are for incidents that occurred before the victim entered military service. This is a 325% increase from the 2012 fiscal year, when that amount was approximately 4% of 3,374 reports, according to the Pentagon.
The report also comes as the military cracks down on inappropriate behavior by senior officers.
The Air Force on Thursday announced that Brig. Gen. Jon Weeks has been relieved of his command of the Air Force Special Operations Air Warfare Center because of a "loss of trust and confidence in his leadership." The Air Force said in a prepared statement that there was preliminary information from an ongoing inspector general investigation into an alleged inappropriate personal relationship involving Weeks.
In another matter, Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, commander of the 3rd Air Force in Europe, announced he would retire about two months early after months of controversy over whether he had aggressively pursued sexual assault cases. In one case, he overturned the jury conviction of an Air Force officer in a sexual assault case.
"The last thing I want in this command is for people to feel they cannot bring a sexual assault case forward or feel it won't be dealt with fairly. In addition, public scrutiny will likely occur on every subsequent case I deal with. I am concerned this could jeopardize the privacy of both the victim and the accused," Franklin said in a statement announcing his retirement.
In the Navy on Wednesday, Cmdr. Joe Martinez was relieved of the command of his air squadron after investigators substantiated allegations that include making racial remarks. Martinez was found to have "willfully ignored Navy instructions, knowingly submitted officer Fitness Reports containing inaccurate information, made inappropriate racial comments, exercised undue influence on subordinates, and made false or misleading statements," said Lt. Greg. Raelson, a Navy spokesman.
But in perhaps an even more egregious case, last month the senior commander and an enlisted sailor of the guided missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham were fired after they failed to take action after a hazing incident against several female sailors.
According to Navy officials, Cmdr. Kenneth Rice and Command Master Chief Petty Officer Stephen Vandergrifft failed to investigate and report an incident in which several female sailors were forced to carry buckets of human waste across the deck of the ship after some of them used broken toilets. The women were not given protective equipment and were forced to march with the waste-filled buckets on deck.
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