The Department of Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies released its report Thursday on the policies of the US Military Academy at West Point, and the US Naval Academy at Andover. The report used site visits, interviews, and reviews of existing data to compile the report, and issued several sweeping recommendations to improve the military response to sexual assault and harassment as well as to improve the climate for women students.
The report found that “harassment is the more prevalent and corrosive problem, creating an environment in which sexual assault is likely to occur,” and called for current sexual assault prevention programs to be recreated as an “academic mandatory graded course curriculum that addresses sexual assault and harassment in the larger context of military leadership and ethics.” In addition, the report recommended an increase in the visibility of women officers and an increase in the numbers of women admitted to the academy. The report suggested that “a ‘critical mass’ can make a difference in creating an environment that has a markedly positive effect on the acceptance and integration of women in a mostly male community,” according to the Associated Press.
In examining the Academies’ policies on sexual assault, the task force found uneven applications of punishment for sexual offenders, as well as outdated sexual misconduct codes and a lack of confidentiality for survivors of sexual assault. To address these findings, the report called on Congress to bring military sexual assault codes more in-line with current civilian laws. Recommended changes include incorporating degrees of sexual misconduct, identifying specific crimes and their penalties, stalking and abuse of authority.
The Department of Defense is already taking steps in the directions suggested by the report, based on the findings of similar studies at the Air Force Academy. The Associated Press reports that sexual assault response coordinators are to be added to bases worldwide, along with at least one victims’ advocate. Additionally, all active military personnel will have the option of maintaining confidentiality from their commanders. Terri Spahr Nelson, Army veteran and therapist, told the Associated Press that the changes were a military milestone, and “I liken it in importance to the establishment of equal-opportunity offices on bases.”