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Sexual assaults reported on rise at U.S. military academies

From Jennifer Rizzo, CNN National Security Producer
December 28, 2011 -- Updated 1540 GMT (2340 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Defense Dept.: Reports rose by nearly 60 percent during the 2010-2011 academic year
  • DoD notes efforts by academies to encourage reporting may figure in increase
  • Report found most academy programs met requirements of existing policies
  • Among new DoD policies is lengthened holding period for records of sexual assaults

Washington (CNN) -- Sexual assaults at the nation's military academies increased sharply in the last academic year, according to a new report from the Department of Defense.

Accounts of sexual assault rose by nearly 60 percent during the 2010-2011 academic program year. A total of 65 reports involved cadets and midshipmen compared to a total of 41 reports in the prior year.

While the Defense Department was unable to cite definitive causes for the increase, the report did say efforts by the academies to encourage victims to report incidents of sexual assault could have played a role in the swell of cases.

As part of the review, site visits were conducted at the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy. Policies, training and procedures at the academies also were reviewed, and focus groups were held with cadets and midshipmen.

Despite the increase in reports, Defense Department officials found that most of the academy programs satisfied, and in some cases exceeded, the requirements of existing policies. The report cited as examples a "model therapist-led support group" set up at the Naval Academy and a new program to increase sexual assault reports at the Air Force Academy.

"We know that the military academies are similar to college campuses around the country in that sexual harassment and assault are challenges that all faculty, staff and students need to work to prevent," Maj. Gen. Mary Kay Hertog, the director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said in a release.

"However, when it does occur, we owe it to those who have been victimized, and to every cadet and midshipman, to do everything possible to provide needed support and to hold those who commit sexual assault appropriately accountable."

Areas for improvement were noted, including collaboration among the academies to share "best practices." Hertog said her office will follow up with the academies every six months to make sure the improvements are made "in a timely manner."

The Defense Department also announced two new policies in an effort it said to support sexual assault victims: Victims who have filed an unrestricted report can now request an expedited transfer from their unit, and sexual assault records will now be kept for 50 years in unrestricted cases and five years in restricted cases.

Standardizing the holding period for records will "ensure victims have extended access to documents related to the sexual assault," the Defense Department said in a release.

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