#MeTooColorado SpringsMilitaryNews

Air Force Academy cracks down on hazing, reports progress on sexual assault prevention

Author: Tom Roeder, The Gazette - April 26, 2018 - Updated: April 30, 2018

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In this 2009 file photo, the Air Force Thunderbirds fly over head as graduating cadets celebrate with the “hat toss” after graduation ceremonies at the Air Force Academy in Colorado. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski, file)

COLORADO SPRINGS — The Air Force Academy is cracking down on hazing across the campus in the wake of incidents involving the school’s swimming and lacrosse teams.

Academy boss Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria on Wednesday told the school’s civilian oversight board that investigations into the incidents are wrapping up, and for the first time he confirmed they involved hazing.

For lacrosse, the hazing led the academy to discipline coaches; as many as 10 players could face sanctions.

For swimming, the academy has banned a group – Silveria called it a “swimming fraternity” – that perpetuated the hazing and is mulling discipline.

Silveria didn’t describe the hazing rituals but said that hazing in general is banned at the school.

“Times have changed, and some of these rituals hang on that are completely, ridiculously inappropriate,” Silveria said.

Silveria’s remarks to the Board of Visitors, appointees who update the Pentagon and Congress on academy matters, provided the most detailed account yet of the incidents that led to an outside review of the athletic department.

The academy until Wednesday wouldn’t confirm that hazing was suspected, instead tying problems on the teams to unspecified “misconduct.”

The hazing also led to a review of the academy’s freshman acceptance rite – “recognition” – to ensure that the tough challenges presented to the academy’s newest students didn’t cross the line into hazing.

The board also got an update on the academy’s efforts to rebuild its scandal-ridden sexual assault prevention and response office, which was shut down last spring after investigators found that victims were being mishandled or ignored.

The academy has a new director of sexual assault programs and is filling out larger slate of employees to staff the rebuilt operations.

Silveria also highlighted a program this month that brought together former cadets who have been victims of sexual assault for a “survivor’s summit” that will be used to influence future policies.

“I wanted to get their ideas and I wanted to learn from them,” Silveria said.

The academy’s handling of sexual assault cases is now under scrutiny by the Pentagon inspector general. A report obtained by The Gazette last fall showed the office was filled with in-fighting before it was closed and its leaders were found to “derelict” in their care for victims.

Silveria said the Pentagon probe is ongoing; and in the meantime, he’s taken personal charge to make sure victims at the school get proper care.

He also formed a “case management group” that brings in sexual assault response workers, academy police, prosecutors, counselors and commanders to go over each sexual assault case in detail. The general said he leads hours-long meetings to make sure he’s up to date on each case.

“I can see when there are areas that in my mind are not paying the appropriate amount of attention,” he said.

A February Pentagon report on sexual assaults at the Defense Department’s service academies found the academy had 33 reported incidents.

Retired Air Force Gen. Edward Rice, who heads the academy board, said the body was placing a special emphasis this year on investigating the issue.

What the board wants to probe, though, was left unclear. Its discussion on sexual assault was largely conducted behind closed doors in an executive session.

In open session, however, Silveria did highlight his efforts to expand a program on sexual assault awareness that’s now delivered to academy athletes.

“Healthy Relationship Training” is used by teams to openly discuss sexual relationships in an effort to show those cadets what’s considered acceptable behavior, while teaching them to deter assaults.

Silveria said he’s also working to preserve the privacy of sexual assault victims, to avoid the ostracism that can accompany reporting an attack.

He said staffers dealing with sexual assaults were ordered to sign off on a memorandum outlining privacy rules at the school.

The general said he wants a school where hazing, rape and other misconduct isn’t tolerated.

“I’m absolutely dedicated to a culture of dignity and respect,” he said.

Tom Roeder, The Gazette

Tom Roeder, The Gazette