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Cadet: Sexual assault scandal at academy is leadership's fault

Former Air Force cadet Beth Davis - who was the first to claim sexual assault was a "dirty secret" at the U.S. Air Force Academy - told officials Wednesday that the underlying problem in the academies is a failure of leadership.

Davis told members of the Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies that academy leaders are inconsistent in responding to assault claims and create a culture of cynicism toward victims.

"The leaders don't live up to the standards that they preach," Davis said. "It is the leadership that came down on me."

Davis, who says she was raped multiple times while attending the Air Force Academy and was retaliated against when she tried to report the incidents, encouraged the task force to gather information from victims in preparing their recommendations on preventing and responding to sexual harassment and sexual violence at the military schools. Davis said that the military's new limited confidentiality policy is a good start in encouraging victims to come forward.

Delilah Rumburg, the task force's co-chair and executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, told Davis that she is glad Davis came forward and encouraged all victim of sexual assault to tell the panel their stories.

Davis's lawyer, Joseph Madonia, said he hopes the academies take this task force's recommendations more seriously than they did the panel headed by former Rep. Tillie Fowler, R-Fla.

"The military has tried to sweep this under the rug," Madonia told the panel. "We hope the military gives more credence to your recommendations."

Members of the task force have visited both academies to talk to cadets and midshipmen. A survey released earlier this month revealed that 50 percent of women at the academies said they had experienced some type of harassment, and 13 percent reported they were sexually assaulted while at the academies.

Recommendations from the task force will include how to implement the Pentagon's confidentiality policy, establish victim witness coordinator and a victim advocate positions, create a policy on offender accountability and victim and witness misconduct, improve training and prevention programs, and modify what some experts in the field of sexual assault trauma have called a "culture of rape" at the academies.

"You're really going to have to change the culture if you're going to have leaders on board with this," said panel member and RAND social scientist Laura Miller.

The recommendations will be another in a long series of panels, papers and reports on how to correct a military culture that lawmakers say does not do enough to prevent and respond to sexual violence.

The panel's other co-chair, Navy personnel chief Vice Adm. Gerald Hoewing, said the panel has found little difference between the military academies and that little has surprised him so far.

The task force was created in September 2004 and after completing its report, which is due Sept. 22, will turn its attention for 18 months to examining sexual assault militarywide as required by the fiscal 2005 Defense authorization bill.