Air Force Academy may have underreported sexual assaults to Congress
The Department of Defense Inspector General announced in a report released on October 2 that up to 35 reports of sexual assault at the elite Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs may not have been reported to Congress as required by law.
The report came nearly two years after Teresa Beasley, the Air Force Academy’s former top official on sexual assault prevention and response, told CBS News in a December 2017 that the Academy was undercounting sexual assault reports. Beasley alleged cases were removed from a Defense Department tracking system to “get the number [of sexual assaults] down because it was the highest [the Academy] had ever had.”
The IG found that between January 1, 2015, and December 31, 2017, 11 cadet reports of sexual assault involving a “current or former intimate partner” were not reported to Congress. Twenty-four additional cases may not have been reported to Congress because they were “archived” in the tracking system. The program administrator did not keep documentation of why they were archived.
A program manager told the IG the system does not allow deletions to prevent intentional manipulation of the numbers. But Air Force memos obtained by CBS News confirm 16 cases were actually deleted from the system during the academic year 2014-2015. It is unclear if the system was changed at some point in 2015.
The program administrator told the IG some cases were archived because because they did not contain a Form 2910 documenting the report of sexual assault. Sources told CBS News in 2017 that cadets were sometimes reluctant to sign a Form 2910, fearing retaliation, stigma, and loss of their military careers.
“They were actual reports. These were victims that had come in and told their story and had received help, had assigned victim advocates, had been referred for medical counseling. They were actual victims,” Beasley said in 2017. But without a signed Form 2910, they weren’t counted.
The government watchdog also recommended that the director of the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office develop and institute a process that would document consults or contacts with victims of sexual assault and any resulting referrals to victim support services, even in cases that do not result in an official report of sexual assault. The Air Force and Department of Defense agreed with the watchdog’s recommendation.
Two weeks before CBS News aired its investigation, the Air Force Academy released a scathing 560-page commander-directed investigation into the office Beasley led, stating that her office’s “lack of competency… jeopardized” victim care.
But the IG report does not support those findings. The IG found that the office provided “…services to cadet‑victims and victim support services were available to cadet-victims at the USAFA as required by DoD and Air Force policy.”
At the time, Beasley, as well as some former colleagues and cadets, told CBS News they believed the Academy was scapegoating her for standing up to leadership on behalf of sexual assault survivors. Beasley has since retired and has filed a complaint against the Academy with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint is being investigated.
The IG also found that Air Force “…commanders and decision makers did not retaliate against cadet-victims by disenrolling them from the USAFA for reporting sexual assault.”
No cadet claimed to CBS News that they were disenrolled “for reporting sexual assault.” But more than a dozen current and former cadets told CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell they experienced retaliation by their peers and their commanders after reporting their assault. Some cadets were disenrolled from the Academy for honor violations, medical (psychological) diagnoses, or other physical or academic deficiencies after reporting their assault. Others who left voluntarily believed they were constructively discharged due to an environment hostile to sexual assault survivors.
Air Force Academy spokesman Lt. Col. Allen Herritage acknowledged to the Associated Press in December 2017 that some cadets face retaliation from other cadets for reporting sexual assault. “Yes, we know that happens, and we do our level best to stamp it out,” he said.
“How are cadets treated when they go public with the sexual assault?” O’Donnell asked Beasley in December 2017.
“It is typically negative,” Beasley said. “There are usually negative things said on anonymous social media. … They’re ostracized frequently by their squad mates… and usually word spreads pretty fast. And word gets out who is the victim. … They’ll have their name plates taken off the room and thrown on the ground. People won’t sit with them at lunch.”
“How are they treated by their commanders?” O’Donnell asked.
“A lot of it is depending on the commander. Some commanders unfortunately will begin retaliating on the cadet as well,” Beasley said. “I think deep down they really don’t believe that sexual assaults are happening. I think they’re minimizing the severity of them.”
“Do you believe that there are some commanders at the Air Force Academy who believe that cadets are making up sexual assault charges?” O’Donnell asked.
“Absolutely,” Beasley said. “They would say it in words such as, ‘I find it interesting, the timing of this report.’ Or ‘I am just wondering why this cadet hasn’t come forward sooner with this assault.'”
Two cadets who were enrolled in 2017 at the Academy spoke to O’Donnell, describing the retaliation they faced by some of their fellow cadets, as well as a lack of understanding by some commanders.
“It’s slut-shaming. It’s victim-blaming. It’s rumors. It’s your career on the line,” said one cadet.
“There’s no understanding in the commanders about sexual assault, the trauma, the effects,” said the other cadet. “They don’t realize that when I’m depressed in my bed, it’s not ’cause, ‘Oh, I don’t wanna go to class today.'”
The two cadets risked their careers by speaking to CBS News about their sexual assaults and requested that we protect their identities.
The Air Force Academy told CBS News that from 2013 to 2017, 11 cadet survivors of sexual assault left the school. Eight disenrolled “voluntarily.” As for the other three, one was over an honor violation, another for poor academics, and a third due to fitness deficiency.
The IG’s personnel did not interview “cadet-victims” out of respect for their “privacy” and to ensure they were not “unnecessarily re-victimized” or “identified.”
Beasley also alleged to CBS News that the Academy “covered up” the circumstances surrounding two violent sexual attacks on the Falcon Trail system on Academy grounds, and that agents with the Air Force Office of Special Investigation, or AFOSI, prematurely closed their investigations because the agents did not appear to believe the cadets who reported the assaults.
The IG examined 16 AFOSI investigations, as well as both Falcon Trail cases. It found that AFOSI agents “…generally responded to and investigated reports of sexual assault in accordance with DoD and Air Force policy…” and “used appropriate investigative steps and techniques and exhausted all logical leads…” in the Falcon Trail cases, which were closed and remain unsolved.
Jennifer Janisch produced the December 2017 investigation for CBS News, which won an Emmy award for Outstanding Investigative Report in a Newscast, an honor from the White House Correspondents Association, and a second place National Headliner Award.