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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Former Air Force Academy Cadet

Aired August 29, 2003 - 20:01   ET

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

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We begin with a service academy scandal that will just not go away. The new superintendent at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, concedes that the institution's very future may be at stake unless things change.
In a new Pentagon survey of 579 female academy cadets, 7.4 percent said they had been victims of rape or attempted rape, primarily by fellow cadets. The survey was taken in response to a widely publicized sexual misconduct scandal at the academy.

Beth Davis is one of the former cadets who came forward. She joins us this evening from Wilmington, Delaware. Her attorney, Joe Madonia, is in Chicago.

Good evening to both of you. Thanks for joining us.

JOE MADONIA, ATTORNEY FOR BETH DAVIS: Good evening.

BETH DAVIS, FORMER AIR FORCE CADET: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Beth, let's begin with you.

Do you think, overall, the results of this study basically reflect what you experienced at the academy?

DAVIS: Yes.

The only problem is that it's not widely known there. So it's -- you feel like you're the only one. I'm really glad that some real numbers are being produced.

O'BRIEN: Let's look at the real numbers.

And I have to say, shocked is not a word that I use lightly, but when you look at these numbers, it's pretty shocking: 579 women surveyed. Over 18 percent of the women reported having been sexually assaulted. And of those 597 women, slightly over 7 percent had been victims of rape or attempted rape.

I want to talk when your experience, Beth. What happened when you were early, really, in your career at the academy?

DAVIS: Yes, I was a freshman there. And I was blackmailed by an upperclassman who ended up raping and assaulting me.

I reported my sophomore year. I was full of fear that I would be ostracized, which actually ended up being what happened and is happening every day with girls there. It's really a shame.

O'BRIEN: Four in five women did not report assault. That is what comes out of this study. Tell me a little bit about the retaliation, Beth, that you faced.

DAVIS: I was being stalked. I had officers telling me that they were going to move me out of the wing because they felt that my safety was at hand and was at risk.

I mean, it just -- everyday life changed for me. I knew that it was going to be a hard road to tread after I reported.

O'BRIEN: Joe, let's talk a little bit about the perpetrators. Some of them have been punished. Do you think that the punishments have gone far enough at this point?

MADONIA: No, I don't. And I think, largely, they have not been punished. And I think that's part of the problem. The victims of these crimes were persecuted by the Air Force, were ostracized, were drummed out of the Air Force, while the perpetrators went unscathed and are flying jets now, as we speak.

O'BRIEN: Beth, I want to tell you about, as you well know, some of the changes that have been made: mandatory reporting of assaults, clustering of women together in the dorms. Do you think that those changes really go far enough?

DAVIS: No, they don't. They don't at all.

I mean, it is a step in the right direction, but that is not going to solve things.

O'BRIEN: Here is what the commander of cadets had to say. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIG. GEN. JOHNNY WEIDA, COMMANDANT OF CADETS, AIR FORCE ACADEMY: If you think we don't have a sexual assault or a sexual harassment problem at the Air Force Academy, your head is in the sand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: He's clearly admitting the problem.

Joe, do you think at least that is a good first step forward?

MADONIA: Well, I think it's a good first step that they're starting to acknowledge there is a problem.

But they really can't address the problem unless they assign responsibility to the commanders of the academy who are in charge and who, during their watch, the problem grew and got to the point it is now.

(CROSSTALK) O'BRIEN: Forgive me for interrupting you there.

But some might say, well, taking a star is assigning responsibility. That is a major demerit. That is more than just a slap on the wrist.

MADONIA: Well, General Gilbert had one star taken away from him right before his retirement. And the other generals were simply reassigned to the Pentagon. That's a lot different than actually assigning responsibility and taking disciplinary action against the commanders of the academy that knew about this problem and let it go on.

O'BRIEN: Beth, you talked a little bit about how tough it was for you. What happened? And when did you decide to leave the academy?

DAVIS: I decided when they were threatening to punish me for what happened that I couldn't be there right then. I had decided that what I was doing was the right thing. And it was really devastating to see them taking punitive actions against me.

So I took a brief time off called a turn-back, which doesn't hurt your career. When I returned from my turn-back a year later, I found that the problem was rampant. I had people coming up to me telling me that it had happened to them. And I decided that I couldn't let them feel like they had gotten away with it again, that they had pushed me out or punished me, when I really didn't do anything wrong. So I promised myself that, if I was going to leave, I was going to make a difference. And that's what I'm trying to do today.

O'BRIEN: Well, we certainly hope that one day you do fulfill your dream of becoming a pilot. Thanks for joining us, Beth Davis, and also Joe Madonia.

DAVIS: Thank you.

MADONIA: Thank you.

DAVIS: Thank you.

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