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Report on military academy assaults cites athletes’ culture of disrespect

WASHINGTON — A culture of bad behavior and disrespect among athletes at US military academies is one part of the continuing problem of sexual assaults at the schools, according to a new Defense Department report that comes following scandals that rocked teams at all three academies last year.

Defense officials say the culture permeates the academies beyond just the locker room, saying that students often feel they need to put up with sexist and offensive behavior as part of their school life, according to the report obtained by the Associated Press.

The annual report on sexual assaults at the US Military Academy at West Point in New York, the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., identifies sports and club teams as an area where they need to expand sexual assault prevention training for coaches and faculty.

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The report is expected to be made public on Friday.

Overall, reported sexual assaults at the academies went down, from 80 to 70, during the school year that ended last May. Of those, almost two-thirds were at the Air Force Academy.

It also notes that alcohol is often a factor in sexual assaults, and it urges military leaders to do more to restrict and monitor drinking and liquor sales.

Athletes and sports teams are coming under increased scrutiny in light of separate harassment and assault episodes at all three schools.

At the Naval Academy, three members of the football team faced accusations in a complicated sexual assault case involving a female student at an off-campus party.

Charges were dropped against one team member and may be dropped against another. The third is still scheduled for trial.

At West Point, the men’s rugby team was temporarily disbanded, and more than a dozen seniors were demoted and faced other punishment and restrictions, after e-mails that were derogatory to women came to light.

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And there was a similar problem with sports team members at the Air Force Academy circulating a document that disparaged women.

Defense officials said Thursday that students view crude behavior and harassment as an almost accepted experience at the academies and that victims feel peer pressure not to report incidents.

So the schools are being encouraged to beef up training, particularly among student leaders, to recognize and feel empowered to report or step in when they see unacceptable behavior.

Both the Army and Navy targeted sports team captains, are using field trips to Gettysburg to talk to them about leadership and the need to combat sexual harassment and assault within their ranks.

Lieutenant General Robert Caslen Jr., the superintendent at West Point, said Thursday that the rugby scandal revealed a bad subculture that had existed for years.

‘‘There were people within the organization that became desensitized to the degradation of respect,’’ Caslen said. ‘‘But there were also people in the organization that recognized it as being wrong and elected not to do anything.’’

The challenge, he said, is finding ways to train and encourage cadets to have the moral courage to stand up and report such conduct when they see it.