West Point Applauds Itself for Sexual Assault Reports Nearly Doubling Last Year
Sexual assault reports nearly doubled at West Point Military Academy in the last school year, according to the Associated Press. The conclusions of the AP report step shamefully into the light of the still-blazing #MeToo movement, #TimesUp, and into the same swamp as the Larry Nassar case currently imploding Michigan State University. Sexual misconduct has long been an issue in the military. The AP report shows, clearly, just how early it begins.
Sexual assault reports have been rising for the last four years at West Point. The AP reports:
“There were 50 cases in the school year that ended last summer, compared with 26 made during the 2015-2016 school year.”
The Point About West Point
While some may take slight comfort in the knowledge that sexual assault has allegedly only mildly risen at other military academies, the trend it points to is clear–sexual assault in the military, as a whole, is on the rise. The AP report also suggests something is dreadfully amiss at West Point, specifically.
Or, maybe not.
The AP states:
“The report highlights persistent problems within the Air Force Academy’s sexual assault prevention office that emerged late last year. Staffing and management issues led to sweeping disciplinary actions, the resignation of the director and an office restructuring.”
With so much turmoil in the Air Force Academy’s sexual assault prevention office, it’s easy to see that some may have been less than comfortable reporting sexual assault. The Academy’s sexual assault numbers are likely higher than reported, as a result.
Another Perspective on West Point
Offering a different perspective on the data reviewed by the AP, both West Point officials and the Defense Department claim the rise in sexual assault reports over the last year are instead due to “a concerted effort to encourage victims to come forward.”
West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen said:
“I’m very encouraged by the reporting.”
Caslen commented further that he recognizes people will not likely understand the encouragement for increased reporting of sexual assault, but said:
“I’ve got the steel stomach to take the criticism.”
Though that self-congratulatory effort may have done some good, it hardly discounts the possibility that sexual assaults are on the arise, as well.
Just last year, 12 percent of women and 2 percent of men claimed in an anonymous survey across all three military academies to have experienced nonconsensual sexual contact.
That’s when West Point officials say they took action. Caslen said:
“When we saw that, we did a complete review of our strategy. We went after increased reporting.”
West Point then relaxed protocol which forced students to report sexual assaults publicly. Survivors of sexual assault now have the option of seeking anonymous aid without the requirement of filing a formal, public report. It’s a start in helping survivors, but does little to address proactive, preventative measures for combating toxic rape culture.
Selling Their Point
Nonetheless, West Point leaders are sure the drastic jump in sexual assault reports over the last year are directly due to their efforts in encouraging reports. They stress that it is not that sexual assaults are rising, only that more of them are finally being reported. It is their goal to have the number of sexual assault reports in a given year more closely meet the number of sexual misconduct claims made in the academies’ annual anonymous surveys. Ultimately, the aim is to diminish sexual assault within the academies and offer the necessary resources for survivors.
Brig. Gen. Omar Jones congratulates West Point on its increase in sexual assault reports for its “proactive and deliberate initiatives” on behalf of survivors.
It should be noted that there was actually a decline in sexual assault reports across all three military academies in the 2015-2016 school year, but that is only because the Air Force Academy’s number of reports dropped drastically. When one considers that drop in reporting was leading into the recent upheaval in the Air Force Academy’s sexual assault prevention office, the reason for that drastic decline in reports, and the overall resulting decline across all three academies, becomes clear.
Pentagon Deputy Director of Sexual Assault Prevention Nate Galbreath said of the Air Force Academy’s lack of professionalism:
“Are there people that are out there that weren’t able to make the report that they wanted to? Probably.”
What’s Being Done
To hopefully remedy the issue, provide better services to sexual assault survivors, as well as nudge the number of sexual assault reports and annual surveys closer together, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen Jay Silveria intends to increase staff, and has already “added a separate sexual assault response coordinator for the 10th Air Wing, which includes active duty forces nearby who had used the academy’s office.”
Efforts taken so far by the Air Force Academy are being lauded by the likes of Air Force Capt. Matthew Chism, who said the Academy will “continue to scrutinize our efforts and remain transparent as we strive to develop a culture of dignity and respect at the academy.”
Galbreath stated all military leaders should “increase oversight of sexual assault prevention offices.” West Point’s office should be at the top of the list.
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Dylan Hock is a writer, educator, and activist. He serves as a volunteer board member of The James Jackson Museum of African American History.