Although accusations of rape and sexual assault can become complicated and often end up pitting one person’s word versus another’s, it is clear that the Air Force Academy has a problem. Fifty-six rape and sexual assault cases have been reported in the last 10 years and Academy officials have admitted to Congress that there are probably 100 other cases that have not been reported. This is because female cadets at the Academy feel an immense amount of pressure to bear their burdens in silence. The gritty details can be found easily enough in a simple Lexis-Nexis search, and if you have the time, you will find individual stories of amazingly qualified women who left the Academy due to the administration’s callousness (often resulting in the victim being punished for minor infractions that occurred during the incident, like alcohol consumption) and unwillingness to punish assailants.
Recently, major steps have been taken to change the environment at the Academy. On March 26, Air Force officials announced that they were reassigning the Academy’s superintendent and commandant, as well as a few other officials. This is a positive sign, since female cadets often cited the Academy’s commandant, Brig. Gen. S. Taco Gilbert III, as being particularly unsympathetic.
Gilbert allegedly told one female cadet who went to him for help that she “didn’t have to go to that party — didn’t have to drink that night.” What happened to the cadet’s assailant?
He was exonerated, but that should not come as a surprise. Only one Air Force Academy cadet has been court-martialed for rape in the last 13 years despite the fact that in a 2001 survey 167 cadets reported that they had been sexually assaulted.
Air Force officials have taken concrete steps to change the environment at the Academy, but it is still disturbing that this sort of thing has been going on. Presumably, some of the assailants of those female cadets are flying over Iraq right now, while many of their victims have dropped out of the Academy due to the emotional distress that they suffered. The Academy’s problems have been noted in almost every major newspaper in the country and a few senators have spoken out in outrage, but I am deeply troubled that neither President Bush nor Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has said one word about the issue. Is it not important enough? How can our leaders be so sure that our troops are acting properly in Iraq when the Air Force cannot even stop the sexual abuse that is going on inside their own Academy?
Jonathan Kossak is a senior in Branford College.