Video: Sexual harrassment

updated 12/8/2004 9:28:30 AM ET 2004-12-08T14:28:30

Officers did not properly handle complaints of sexual abuse at the Air Force Academy, but they did not ignore the reports, an assistant Air Force secretary said Wednesday.

Responding to a critical report by the Pentagon’s inspector general, Michael Dominguez said, “We could have and should have done many things better. But remember, these people were wrestling with a national problem. The failure was that that they really didn’t recognize the magnitude of it. They wrestled with it.”

Dominguez, appearing on NBC’s “Today” show, responded to a Dec. 3 memo that Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz wrote to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in which he harshly criticized the service’s handling of the problem.

Severity of the problem’ unrecognized
“We conclude that the overall root cause of the sexual assault problems at the Air Force Academy was the ’failure of successive chains of command over the past 10 years to acknowledge the severity of the problem,”’ Schmitz wrote.

Video: Air Force interview “Consequently, they failed to initiate and monitor adequate corrective measures to change the culture until recently,” he added.

Last year, nearly 150 women came forward with accusations that they had been sexually assaulted by fellow cadets between 1993 and 2003. Many alleged they were punished, ignored or ostracized by commanders for speaking out.

Dominguez on Wednesday refused to name those alleged to have assaulted women, saying that “it’s inappropriate for us to identify individuals.”

He did say that “the process for examining their activities, in the context of what they did, why they did it” is under review at the highest levels of the Defense Department.

“The inspector general found that there was no willful or intentional neglect,” Dominguez said. “These officers were well-intentioned, trying to struggle with these issues, 10 years before we got into it.”

“We did poorly. We did not do it as effectively as we ought to,” he said, “but it wasn’t because we dismissed these cases. Generally, people cared. They cared about those cadets and they cared about our airmen and we’re trying to fix this problem.”

Eight officials cited
Schmitz’s full report was not made public. A summary released Tuesday blamed — but didn’t identify — eight Air Force officials for their roles in the program that oversaw sexual-assault reporting at the academy.

At a news conference, David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said the Pentagon would soon implement a new military-wide policy protecting the confidentiality of people who report being sexually assaulted.

Outside investigations concluded the culture of the academy created conditions that contributed to the problem. That included lingering resistance to having female cadets at all: Last year, a survey of cadets found 22 percent did not believe women belonged at the academy, more than a quarter of a century after they were first admitted.

But academy officials say matters have improved since the assaults came to light.

Gen. Michael “Buzz” Moseley, the Air Force’s vice chief of staff, also noted that all senior leaders at the academy had been replaced since the allegations came to light.

The military has had to deal with sexual assault issues across the services.

In May, a Pentagon task force found that victims of rape and other forms of sexual assault in the military have too often suffered additionally from a lack of support from commanders, criminal investigators and doctors.

The report, ordered in February by Rumsfeld after a number of sexual assaults against soldiers in the Iraqi theater came to light, described inconsistencies throughout the military in the treatment and investigation of such assaults.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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