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Air Force promises changes

©Associated Press

March 27, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Top Air Force officers pledged Wednesday to restore honor to an Air Force Academy shaken by allegations that female cadets were ostracized or reprimanded for reporting rapes and sexual assaults.

"We believe this is one of the finest institutions in the world. It stumbled, and now it's going to get fixed," said Air Force Secretary James Roche.

Roche announced that four of the academy's top officers would be replaced, including the superintendent, Lt. Gen. John D. Dallager, who would retire as scheduled, in June.

"We're doing what a corporation would do. We want to have a change. We want to have people think differently," Roche said.

Other changes listed in a nine-page report include clustering female cadets' dormitory rooms and providing round-the-clock security; training medical personnel to respond to sexual assault cases; offering amnesty to cadets raising sexual assault allegations; and expelling cadets for underage drinking or providing alcohol to an underage cadet.

Incoming male and female classes would have separate academy orientation, where they would be instructed on appropriate behavior.

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said many of the changes, including tearing down a prominent campus courtyard sign that reads "Bring Me Men . . . ," are "merely window dressing."

"(Others) show that the Air Force continues to blame the victims for the assaults," she said. "Clustering women cadets' dorm rooms together, for example, will not exorcise long-held beliefs that the very presence of women in a dorm causes rape."

Twenty cases of rape -- three of which were later recanted -- and 36 cases of sexual assault have been reported at the academy since 1993, Roche said.

"There's now no reason to be afraid" to come forward, said Gen. John Jumper, Air Force chief of staff. "We are changing out that leadership that many have said are responsible for that culture."

Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., said he doesn't believe the reforms go far enough.

"Part of the problem in the system that exists is they regard sexual assault as a violation of the regulations, and by gosh it's not a violation of the regulations," he said. "It's a felony."

Hefley, who is on the academy's 15-member civilian oversight board, said he wants civilian authorities to investigate allegations because that would convey the criminal element of sexual assault.

Roche said the Air Force may renegotiate the agreements it has with police departments to address that issue.

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