Protecting Women Cadets

The nation expects much of its military officers. They must put their lives on the line to defend freedom and uphold American values. Those values include civil rights, the rule of law, and due process.

How disturbing, then, to read of charges that officials at the US Air Force Academy have covered up more than 50 cases of alleged rape and sexual assault of female cadets by their male classmates. In many cases, apparently, a woman trying to report a rape has herself been punished for violating lesser academy rules.

Top Air Force officials have sent investigators to Colorado Springs and provided counselors for women making the allegations. They are changing procedures for handling such claims to protect confidentiality and end the charging of victims with other infractions. Men's and women's dormitory rooms will be separated.

But more is needed. Clearly the academy's culture needs to change. The Air Force should discipline officers who covered up crimes. Where there is evidence of rape, the accused should be court-martialed. Alcohol abuse is often a factor in rape cases - especially involving underage college students. The academy should beef up its training against substance abuse and sexual assault for both incoming cadets and upperclassmen.

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