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Sex assault at military academies underreported, survey finds

By Larry Shaughnessy and Barbara Starr

The risk of sexual assault is growing at the elite military service academies, but victims are reluctant to report the problem, according to a Pentagon report obtained by CNN.

The survey of three military academies was ordered by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and will be released Thursday. CNN obtained advance details of the survey, which shows that the problem is getting worse with a rise in reported assaults and evidence that many more are never discussed.

Some of the most disturbing new information comes from the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland. The survey found that 225 midshipmen, mainly females, reported that they were the victims of unwanted sexual contact in the most recent academic year. That contact includes everything from touching to rape. But only 12 filed formal reports, down nearly 50 percent from last year. The belief is the women still are not confident that their reports will be taken seriously.

At the Army's U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and the Air Force Academy in Colorado, the number of sexual assault incidents reported rose as well. The survey also found that at these schools, women appear to be more comfortable about reporting harassment and assault, though there were many cases of unreported incidents at those academies as well.

"The problem, as I see it, is no heads have rolled, all the generals come before congress and (say) the same thing over again, there is zero tolerance, but nothing ever changes," said U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California who has worked hard for years to end this problem.

In April, Speier met with Panetta about the issue; he vowed then things would change.

"Sexual assault has no place in the military. It is a violation of everything that the U.S. military stands for," Panetta said.

"The chain of command is part of the problem," Speier said in an interview with CNN. "You are required to report the incident to your chain of command; oftentimes the assailant is you commander."

Speier said the fact that the assailants in these cases are students is particularly disturbing.

"These are the cream of the crop; these are young people with great SAT scores and great GPAs that are supposed to the next generation of leadership for this country, so we should expect more, not less."

Speier has a theory about why there has been no change: "I think that Secretary Panetta has wanted to do the right thing, I think that the bureaucracy and the military superstructure is going to withstand his scrutiny and review because they saw him as a short-termer."