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1 in 5 Female Air Force Academy Cadets Said They Had Been Sexually Assaulted

Aired August 29, 2003 - 19:34   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Imagine the outrage if one of -- one out of five female American P.O.Ws said they had been sexually assaulted by Iraqi. Well, that's how many female Air Force cadets say they have been assaulted, not by the enemy, by men supposed to be their comrades in arms.
Out of 56 cases, in the last decade, at the Air Force academy, charges were filed in two and dropped in one. But as CNN's Gary Tuchman reports now the academy is taking a new approach.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The new Commandant of Air Force Academy cadets pointed a sword to make a point. The weapon has been tarnished, Brigadeer General Johnny Weida told some 4,000 cadets.

BRIGADIER GENERAL JONNY WEIDA, AIR FORCE ACADEMY: Ladies and gentlemen, if you think we don't haev a sexual assault or a sexual harassment problem at the Air Force Academy, your head is in the sand.

TUCHMAN: The General Weida says he does not dispute the preliminary defense department report showing that of 579 female Air Force cadets surveyed, 109 indicate they have been victims of sexual assault in their time in the academy. Which is almost one in five of the women surveyed.

Of those, 109 women, 43 say they were victims of rape or attempted rape. That's over 7 percent of the female cadets surveyed. At this institute where lying, stealing and cheating is not tolerated the General Weida is adamant sexual assault is also on that list list.

WEIDA: Then, if they don't get it, they're going to leave.

TUCHMAN: The Brigadier General was brought here to Colorado Springs in large part to help clean up the situation.

WEIDA: There are those that have said all along this is a media creation, that this is a sensationalized issue. This helps, I think, tell everyone this is a problem.

TUCHMAN: Many female cadets say they feel more comfortable now that the issue is being prominently discussed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is, you know, stuff going on here that needs to be addressed and we can fix it and we need to do it together as a team. TUCHMAN: And the Air Force Academy said it is taking the steps to do just that. Gary Tuchman, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Joining us now to offer some perspective on sexual assault at the academy is Terry Spar-Nelson. She is the author of "For Love of Country: Confronting Rape And Sexual Harassment In The U.S. Military." She's also a veteran of the U.S. Army and a psychotherapist. She joins us from Cincinnati. Welcome thanks for being with us.

TERRY SPAHR NELSON, AUTHOR: Thank you.

COOPER: According to government figures, 3 percent of women in college report attempted rape or rape, 3 percent. These are reports. In the Air Force Academy it's 7 percent on average. What does that tell you? What is going on?

NELSON: Well, that's a good point. And I think what we need to realise is there are many variables that contribute to the sexual victimization of women at the academy. But particularly, what we're looking at here is an issue of the culture and climate. In other words, a pattern and history that sexual harassment and sexual assault has been tolerated and secondly we need to look at whether or not women are truly accented as equals at the academy. In other words, if we can see women somehow as lesser than their male counterparts it makes it easier to be harassed or victimized.

COOPER: And what of course, makes this all the more ominous, is that these are reported incidences of rape or attempted rape. Statistics show there are a lot of other cases that go unreported and you say it's perhaps even more likely that incidences like these would go unreported at place like the Air Force Academy. Why?

NELSON: Well, it's very difficult for women to report sexual in any situation, but the women at the academy have additional pressure. Almost 50 percent of the women indicated that they feared reprisals. They see what happens when their peers report sexual assault.

They fear that they're going to lose their career, thrown out of the academy, more harassment. There are a number of issues they fear that make it difficult for them to come forward.

COOPER: And I suppose what makes it different than any other college if you go to Yale or something and you're having problems and if you leave the school your career is not over, your life can continue, but if you're in the Air Force Academy it's not just a school, it is a career.

NELSON: Exactly. And moreover, when women or men leave the academy early before their commitment is over they are sometimes forced or liable to pay for the tuition that they have incurred.

COOPER: They're saying they're going to do something about it, do you believe them? NELSON: Yes, I do as a matter of fact. I think the current leadership is taking this seriously. They know we're looking, we're watching, we're paying attention and if a sexual assault happens on theire watch, they are responsible.

COOPER: All right, Terry Spahr Nelson. Going to leave it there. Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

NELSON: Thank you.

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