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Abuse found in military schools
WASHINGTON — A culture that devalues the role of women in uniform makes it easier for rape and sexual harassment to occur at the Army and Navy academies, according to a Pentagon task force report released Thursday.

"When women are devalued, the likelihood of harassing and even abusive behavior increases," said the panel of 12 military officers and civilian experts. It proposed wide-ranging action, from better admissions screening to revamping antiquated military rape laws.

Congress ordered the review of the Army and Navy academies after a 2003 investigation at the Air Force academy found sexual assault "a part of life" for cadets. That investigation arose after almost 150 women came forward to say they had been assaulted by fellow cadets between 1993 and 2003.

Thursday's report praised Army and Navy leaders for taking the issue seriously but said the services need to do more.

Representatives at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., said their services would use the report to help improve conditions.

"Our goal is to eliminate this illegal behavior," said Lt. Col. Kent Cassella, a West Point spokesman.

The report cited 2004 Pentagon data showing 50% of women at all three academies were harassed, mostly verbally but dozens suffering physical abuse. Tolerance of "hostile attitudes and inappropriate actions toward women" continues "to hinder the establishment of a safe and professional environment," it said.

"I'm not surprised at all, I regret to say," said retired Air Force brigadier general Wilma Vaught, president of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation. "I don't know what we have to do to end" the harassment of women by some male colleagues.

Among more than four dozen recommendations:

• Toughen consequences for men who harass or tolerate harassment, or who abuse alcohol, a major factor. The system of peer loyalty, which discourages reporting, must be changed, it said.

• Increase the number of women on faculties and in student bodies. About 15% of cadets and midshipmen are female.

• Require incoming freshmen to release high school records that would show behavior problems.

• Urge Congress to pass criminal rape laws for the military similar to those of many states. Current military laws "do not reflect the full range of contemporary sexual misconduct," including cases that don't involve physical force.

• Give commanders more authority to close the doors of criminal hearings, to protect the accuser from public exposure and thus encourage reporting.

• Add history of women in uniform to the curricula, including why women are excluded from combat.

That exclusion should end, said Vaught, adding that "we all take the same oath. We get the same pay. We should leave commanders free to use their troops the way they have to in times of combat."

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