USAF, Army, Navy Secretaries Meet to Discuss Sexual Assault at Academies

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, center, answers a question during a press conference held alongside Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Army Secretary Mark Esper at the National Discussion on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at America's Colleges, Universities and Service Academies, on April 4, 2019. The forum was co-hosted by the three service secretaries at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., on April 4-5, 2019. Navy photo by MC1 Paul L. Archer.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson joined the leaders of the Navy and Army last week for a summit on sexual assault and harassment at the service academies and in the nation’s universities, with the goal of better understanding the depth of the problem.

“My colleagues and I believe we have an obligation to share what we are learning and to work with colleges and universities across America to reduce the instances of sexual assault and sexual harassment in every community and on every campus,” Wilson said, according to a release. “That’s what this conference is about—our willingness, as institutional leaders, to admit that we don’t have the answers, but we all know we have problems. And we’re more likely to be able to reduce the instances of sexual assault if we work together.”

The leaders met April 4-5 at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and heard from lawmakers and leaders in academia to determine strategies to improve the responses to incidents of sexual assault and harassment.

Through the summit, the services are forming a network of leaders and experts to work together to reduce sexual harassment and assault at colleges.

“Sexual assault and sexual harassment are no doubt difficult problems,” Army Secretary Mark Esper said. “But working together we have the opportunity to better understand the root causes, exchange innovative ideas and work toward the goal of ridding our institutions of these crimes.”

The academies are struggling to combat sexual assault and harassment, with a high rate of incidents but a low rate of formal reporting. A Defense Department report released in February found that during the 2017-2018 academic year, 46 percent of female US Air Force Academy cadets experienced sexual harassment, but only one formal report was received by the school. In addition, 15.1 percent of USAFA female cadets experienced unwanted sexual contact.