Hostile attitudes and inappropriate treatment of women persist at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, a Pentagon task force reported yesterday.
The panel called for better training of future officers at the academies, saying the value of women in the military should be better emphasized. It said current training regarding sexual harassment and assault issues is inadequate, resulting in misunderstandings by cadets and midshipmen about how to obtain medical care, counseling and legal assistance.
The study's authors included several military officers and experts on issues of sexual harassment and assault.
The report is the latest to address sexual issues and cultural attitudes at those academies after a scandal at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs surfaced in 2003.
Other studies have focused on the Air Force Academy, and its leadership has been replaced. But Congress also requested a look at West Point and the Naval Academy.
The new study credited both academies with making progress in addressing sexual harassment and assault issues, particularly in improving services to victims. But it called for putting more women in leadership roles at the academies, and said more women should be admitted as cadets and midshipmen.
"Some research shows 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, resulting in decreased incidence of sexual harassment and assault," the report said. Fifteen to 17 percent of the students at each academy are women.
The task force said harassment at the academies included jokes and offensive stories of sexual exploits; derogatory terms for women; offensive gestures; repeated, unwanted propositions for dates or sex; and offering to trade academic favors -- such as a positive evaluation -- for sexual acts.
The task force also called for new military law to protect the confidentiality of cadets and midshipmen who are victims of sexual misconduct when they speak with medical personnel or victims' advocates. Task force members also said allegations of sexual misconduct were only rarely prosecuted to the maximum extent.
In March, the military released results of surveys at all three military academies. Women at the academies reported about 300 incidents of sexual assault since they enrolled, a figure the military says is comparable to an experience at civilian schools.
Last year, nearly 150 women came forward with accusations that they had been sexually assaulted by fellow cadets at the Air Force Academy between 1993 and 2003. Many alleged they were punished, ignored or ostracized by commanders for speaking out.