Air Force Academy Questioned for Response to Sexual Assault

Polaris Hall houses the Center for Character and Leadership Development at the US Air Force Academy, Colo. Air Force photo.

The US Air Force Academy has been accused of underreporting sexual assault allegations, using intimidation to discourage cadet reporting of sexual assaults, and removing a sexual assault response official who attempted to raise awareness of these problems, according to a series of CBS reports.

“More than a dozen current and former cadets … reported their sexual assaults to the Air Force Academy only to experience retaliation by their peers and their commanders,” CBS reported Monday.

“I think deep down they really don’t believe that sexual assaults are happening,” Teresa Beasley, who formerly ran the academy’s sexual assault prevention and response office, told the network. “I think they’re minimizing the severity of them.”

Beasley also accused the academy of working to reduce the number of sexual assaults reported by cadets during her tenure. “I believe they wanted to get that number down because it was…the highest we’d ever had,” Beasley told CBS. “I was reprimanded … they tried to fire me for what they said was intentionally over-inflating the numbers,” she added.

CBS also sought response from former and current academy leadership, who indicated that the sexual assault prevention and response office itself may have had problems under Beasley.

“During my tenure, I viewed those entrusted with the care of sexual assault victims as having a sacred duty,” said retired Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, who served as superintendent of the academy during part of Beasley’s time there, in a statement offered to CBS. “When members in the sexual assault prevention and response office demonstrated they were not up to that task, we immediately initiated an investigation, took actions appropriate to the findings, and worked tirelessly to ensure victims received the care they deserved.”

Current academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria told CBS that he is “disgusted by those reports,” that academy officials may have minimized or ignored reports of sexual assault. “I expect the cadets, the faculty, and staff to treat each other with respect and dignity, and I’ve enforced that from the very beginning.”

As to the academy’s treatment of Beasley, Silveria said “there are standards in that office that we needed to maintain,” and that Johnson “had to take action because our cadets deserve the very best.”

Silveria also said, “I think it’s important that you don’t just focus on Theresa Beasley in that office.” He emphasized that the academy has “a number of layers of care … for cadets, they have mental health professionals, they have student counseling services, they have chaplains that are available for cadets of faith.” In the chain of command, as well, “all of our commanders are trained, they have an accredited master’s degree in counseling,” Silveria said.

He insisted the academy is also committed to “accountability,” and said that “last month we removed a cadet” in relation to an incident of sexual assault.

In contrast to charges that he is seeking to minimize sexual assault, Silveria said, “I want reporting to go up” at the academy. “We know that across the nation and across campuses, this is underreported. So I want reporting to go up so that I can provide that care, provide that support” to cadets.

“The Air Force Academy is deeply concerned by the allegations regarding the treatment of sexual assault victims at the academy,” spokesperson Lt. Col. Timothy Herritage said in an email statement. He said that “dozens of professionals” are committed to caring for cadets who are “victims of this horrible crime.” He said “the academy is also focused on the root cause and believes creating and sustaining a climate of dignity and respect is absolutely essential to ending the scourge of sexual assault. One assault is too many and we will never rest until the number is zero.”