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US Air Force leaders criticized in Academy sex report
( 2003-09-23 08:48) (Agencies)

Congressional investigators on Monday attacked a "chasm in leadership" in the U.S. Air Force for its failure to halt a decade of sexual assaults against female cadets at the elite Air Force Academy.

In a scathing report, an independent panel appointed by Congress to probe a scandal that has rocked the service said former top Air Force officials and those who led the academy should be made to answer for allowing the problem to continue.

It recommended that the Pentagon inspector general investigate the failure to respond to clear signals of a culture against women at the school that trains Air Force officers. But it did not call for punishment, saying that was up to the Pentagon.

The seven-member group said allegations of 142 sexual assaults against women had been made at the Colorado school over the past 10 years and that little had been done to halt the pattern or punish those guilty until earlier this year when the issue became public.

"The sexual assault problems at the academy are real and continue to this day," former Republican Rep. Tillie Fowler of Florida, who headed the panel, told reporters.

"In examining the evidence ... we found a deep chasm in leadership during the most critical time in the academy's history -- one that extended far beyond its campus in Colorado Springs," she said at a news conference.

"Sadly, we believe that this chasm in leadership helped create an environment in which sexual assault became a part of life" at the 4,000-student school at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.


The sex scandal at the academy resulted in replacement of the school's top officials this year and separate investigations by the Air Force, the Pentagon and Congress.

Fowler praised current Air Force Secretary James Roche and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper, who have moved to change the rules and culture at the academy, but said that former leaders of the service and at the school were guilty of turning their heads.

"Clearly the academy's gender climate has changed little in the past 10 years," the report said, noting that the academy's own survey data showed that one in five responding male cadets did not believe that women belonged at the school.

"The warning signs were there, but went unnoticed or ignored," Fowler told reporters.

The panel recommended a number steps to change the culture at the academy ranging from creating a Web site to educate cadets about sexual assault to giving top Air Force leaders direct oversight over the academy's deterrence of sexual assault and harassment.

It took sharp issue with Roche's recommendation that would end confidentiality in reporting of sexual assaults by female cadets, saying that would discourage such reports and protect guilty parties.

About 660 women are enrolled at the academy and 398 of those told the Pentagon inspector general's office this summer that they had been subjected to sexual harassment of one form or another.

A separate Air Force report released in June by a working group headed by Air Force general counsel Mary Walker found "no systemic acceptance of sexual assault at the school at Colorado Springs, no institutional avoidance of responsibility or systemic maltreatment of cadets who report sexual assault."

The Fowler study group criticized that Air Force report, suggesting it was written to protect Air Force leaders, and recommended that the Pentagon look into the report.

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