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Report finds sexual assault, drug use at Air Force Academy

The superintendent of the Air Force Academy has ordered an investigation based on a report on widespread misconduct, including rape, by student athletes.
Graduating Air Force cadets march into the football stadium at the start of the commencement ceremony at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, May 29, 2013.
Graduating Air Force cadets march into the football stadium at the start of the commencement ceremony at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, May 29, 2013.

The superintendent of the Air Force Academy has called for an investigation into allegations of sexual assault, drug use, cheating, and favoritism among star student athletes. A report from the Colorado Springs Gazette found evidence that between 2010 and 2012, members of the football team and others took part in parties where heavy drinking, drug use, and sexual violence were commonplace.

According to The Gazette’s report, which was based on interviews and hundreds of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, a drink laced with Rohypnol, a date rape drug commonly known as "roofies," was made specifically for women who attended a Dec. 2, 2011, party. According to a confidential informant who spoke to investigators a few days later, "four or five females did not recall what occurred the following day after the party." The informant added that a gang rape took place that night.

The Office of Special Investigations eventually looked at 32 cadets, including 16 football players. Eight faced punishment and were dismissed for separate instances of misconduct, three of whom were court-martialed for sexual assault.

When the inspector general launches its new investigation, it will focus on the school’s athletic department. "These efforts will help in eliminating subcultures at the Air Force's Academy whose climates do not align with our institutional core values,” Johnson said in a statement.

The Air Force has seen multiple large-scale sexual assault scandals in recent years. In 2003, allegations surfaced that female cadets at the academy were routinely harassed and assaulted, and that school officials ignored the problem. In addition, more than a dozen instructors at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas were convicted of misconduct that ranged from fraternization with trainees to sexual assault.

The new report comes as the military and institutions of higher education have been struggling to respond to sexual assault more effectively. A survey conducted by the military found that in the 2012 fiscal year, there were some 26,000 incidents of unwanted sexual contact, but only 3,374 of them were reported.

Greg Jacob, legislative director of Service Women’s Action Network, told msnbc that the longstanding problem of sexual assault at the military service academies is a critical one because so many future military leaders attend them. “The people setting policy are coming from the academies. If their experience is based in a culture that doesn’t handle reports well, that retaliates against victims, that protects perpetrators, that’s going to play into how they deal with the problem of sexual assault,” he said.

One way to make the service academies more accountable for harassment and assault, Jacob added, would be to subject them to requirements under Title IX, the civil rights law that requires gender equity in education. Despite receiving federal financial aid, the academies are not subject to the laws that require schools to do all they can to prevent sexual assault and respond adequately to reports. "The academies are 42 years behind other colleges when it comes to creating a safe and harassment-free environment," he told msnbc.

In her statement, Johnson also highlighted the work the academy has already done to improve the climate at the school, such as a video featuring students athletes making a pledge to stop sexual violence.

“Despite all of our efforts, I expect we'll still have issues with a few young people who will make poor choices,” she said. “However, I continue to pledge transparency and an emphasis on cadet development that provides the right culture and climate so that we can remain focused on the development of all 4,000 cadets and our bright future.”