(WOMENSENEWS)–Nearly 12 percent of the women who graduated from the United States Air Force Academy this year were the victims of rape or attempted rape during their four years at the academy in Colorado Springs, with the vast majority never reporting the incidents to the authorities, according to a survey by the inspector general of the Defense Department.
The survey, given to some 579 women at the academy in May 2003, found that nearly 70 percent of them said they had been the victims of sexual harassment, of which 22 percent said they experienced “pressure for sexual favors.” There were 659 women enrolled at the academy at the time of the survey.
Of the entire enrollment, 19 percent said they had been the victims of sexual assault and more than 7 percent said that assault took the form of rape or attempted rape. Four out of five women never came forward to report that they had been assaulted, the survey shows.
The survey appeared to confirm the claims of the half-dozen or so former cadets who initially came forward earlier this year, revealing a problem of sexual assault at the academy that they described as widespread and the product of a culture hostile toward women. The women said victims of rape who came forward were routinely punished for minor infractions while their attackers escaped judgment, prompting most victims to remain silent.
After initially playing down the complaints of rape victims as the result of a few “bad apples,” Air Force officials gradually concluded that the problem was more serious. In late March and early April, they replaced the academy’s leadership and announced an “agenda for change,” calling for the clustering of women in dormitory rooms near the women’s bathrooms and mandatory reporting of all sexual assaults, among other measures.
Lt. Col. Sam Hudspath, a spokesperson for the Air Force, did not dispute the survey’s findings. “We will chart a fundamentally different course for the academy,” he told reporters, “and most importantly we’re going to closely monitor our progress as we move forward.”
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