More than a dozen current and former United States Air Force Academy cadets in Colorado Springs told CBS News they reported sexual assaults only to experience retaliation by their peers and their commanders.
“CBS This Morning” traveled to the Air Force Academy during a six-month investigation into sexual assault in the military. The academy is where America’s best and brightest go to become commissioned officers in the Air Force.
The Dayton Daily News previously reported sexual assaults at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base have increased over the past four years, and nearly doubled between 2015 and 2016, the Department of Defense reported.
Between 2013 and 2016, 83 reports of sexual assault occurred at the Miami Valley base, which is the largest single site-employer in Ohio with a workforce of about 27,000 employees, Pentagon data shows.
The data, which does not include cases from this year, was disclosed as high-profile political and entertainment figures have been accused of sexual assault or harassment in recent weeks.
The Defense Department data is the number of incidents reported to a sexual assault response coordinator or military authorities at a base. According to the Pentagon, an assault could have occurred at another location, prior to a victim joining the military, or while the victim was deployed, on leave, or temporally on duty elsewhere.
Don Christensen, a retired Air Force chief prosecutor, said in his more than two decades of military judicial experience the “vast majority” of reported assaults occurred at or near the installation where it was first recorded.
At Wright-Patterson, 19 incidents were reported in fiscal year 2013, 17 cases in both 2014 and 2015, and 30 cases in 2016, the data showed.
“We cannot identify any significant trends in the increase,” Wright-Patterson spokeswoman Marie Vanover said in an email late Monday afternoon. “While each case has its own unique attribute, the number is not indicative of the number of assaults that occurred at Wright-Patt. There are many factors that go into the numbers; including some cases accounting for more than one incident.”
Several Air Force installations, including the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., Kadena Air Base in Japan, and Ramstein Air Base in Germany, reported higher sexual assault cases than Wright-Patterson in 2016.
“Although the numbers for Wright-Patt are low in comparison to other places, they are still too high and show we have a long way to go to create a safe work environment in the military,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, chairman of the House Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus.
Both Wright-Patterson and Kadena saw a near doubling in the number of incidents reported between 2015 and 2016, data shows. Kadena reported 19 cases in 2015 and 37 in 2016.
Air Force wide, the service branch reported 821 cases in 2013; 1,003 in 2014; 1,009 in 2015; and 1,043 in 2016.
Among joint bases, Joint Base San Antonio, Texas reported the most incidents in 2016 with 211. Naval Station Norfolk, Va., had the highest number of incidents among military bases that year with 270, data shows.
The U.S. military recorded 6,172 sexual assault incidents in 2016, a 1.5 percent increase compared to the prior year.
Since 2016, Wright-Patterson has put in place “new mandatory awareness and bystander intervention programs” to promote individual responsibility to say or do something when they witness an “inappropriate situation,” and has doubled the number of outreach meetings to increase awareness and prevention of sexual assault, Vanover said in an email.
“We’re dedicated to fostering an environment of respect by standing against anyone who commits sexual assault and supporting survivors of these horrible acts, whenever and wherever it has occurred,” she added.
Christensen, president of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, said education to reduce sexual assault can be helpful, “but it’s not going to eliminate the problem and the inability to hold people accountable, which is really a problem here, is thwarting their efforts to reduce sexual assault.”
In a statement, Wright-Patterson said “effectively responding to sexual assaults is not only critical to the health, morale and welfare of our Airmen — civilian, officer and enlisted — but, ultimately essential to Air Force readiness.”
It added: “Respect for all is imperative and success of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program relies on all Airmen standing against those who would commit sexual assault and supporting those who have been victimized by these heinous acts. We are committed to providing support to anyone affected by sexual assault.”
The Pentagon categorizes sexual assaults into restricted and unrestricted categories. A restricted category means a victim can receive medical and mental health services, but there is no investigation of the alleged incident, Christensen said.
An unrestricted report allows an investigation to proceed.
Based on those categories, Wright-Patterson reported 12 unrestricted and seven restricted reports in 2013; 10 unrestricted and seven restricted reports in 2014; 11 unrestricted and six restricted reports in 2015; and 20 unrestricted and 10 restricted reports in 2016, according to the Defense Department.
Last year, the military reported more than 4,600 unrestricted reports of sexual assault, which was an all-time high, according to Christensen. “It shows that there’s still a big problem there,” he said.
In a statement, he added: “Even in the rare cases where survivors report, 98 percent of the time their assailant is not convicted.”
The Defense Department reported prevalence rates of sexual assault decreased from 6.1 percent of active-duty female service members in 2012 to 4.3 percent in 2016, and from 1.2 percent of active-duty male service members in 2012 to 0.6 percent in 2016.
Sexual assault remains under reported even as the percentage of people who notified authorities of incidents has increased. Prior to fiscal year 2014, the Defense Department said 15 percent or fewer military victims reported sexual assault to military authorities every year. In 2016, the Pentagon estimated 32 percent of victims reported an incident to the military.
Christensen noted the high number of restricted reports in military combat zones could show victims are fearful of reporting incidents.
In Afghanistan, for example, 10 victims filed unrestricted reports while 15 victims filed restricted reports in 2016.
“That tells me men and women in a combat zone don’t feel safe there” to potentially pursue prosecution of a case, he said.