updated 3/30/2007 6:52:30 PM ET 2007-03-30T22:52:30

The U.S. Coast Guard Academy has lost its way and is struggling with a climate of distrust and cynicism in which nearly one in four cadets say they would not report classmates who commit sexual assault, a task force reported Friday.

The task force, created last year after the first student court-martial in the academy's 130-year history, said the academy must restore its focus on leadership and character development to create the best officers to safeguard the nation's coast.

Otherwise, the report warned, the academy is in danger of losing the distinct identity that separates it from other colleges.

The task force began its work last fall after Cadet Webster Smith was acquitted of rape but served five months in prison for extorting a female classmate for sexual favors. It did not find widespread problems feared in the wake of Smith's case.

"The task force made an exhaustive effort to uncover whatever misconduct or malfeasance may have represented the potential unseen iceberg below the recently reported events," the report states. "What it found was a dearth of this behavior, and precious little that had not been duly investigated and adjudicated."

An annual anonymous survey released with the task force report found that 13 — nine women and four men — of nearly 1,000 enrolled cadets reported being subject to an actual assault or attempted rape over the past year or since reporting to the academy. A total of 23 incidents were reported, up from 18 in 2005, according to the survey.

The task force said that an emphasis on sports and academics has overshadowed leadership development and a focus on core values.

Many cadets accept underage drinking, pornography and sex among cadets on campus, where it is banned, the report said.

Most cadets do not trust or respect their company officers. Nearly 23 percent of cadets said they would not report other cadets who commit sexual assault, while 65 percent say they would allow personal loyalty to impact their decision to report sexual assault, the survey found.

"Cadets' expressed feelings of cynicism and distrust of the academy institution represent a serious obstacle in achieving the academy's mission," the report stated.

While the number of female cadets has risen, some cadets and faculty have not fully adjusted to the presence of women and minorities at the academy, the report said. It said that minority cadets and faculty also perceived that white students were held to a different standard than minority students.

Smith, who is black, claimed he was treated differently from white cadets accused of sexual offenses.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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