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Air Force Academy coaches asked to help curb assaults

Aug. 13, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Michelle Johnson
Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy, said Wednesday that she has told athletic coaches to take a bigger role in preventing sexual assaults, pulling them into the yearslong campaign at the school to stem abuse. (Brennan Linsley / AP)
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The Air Force Academy defensive line takes to the field on Thursday for drills on the first day of football practice for the 2014 season at the Holaday Athletic Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Michael Ciaglo/The Colorado Springs Gazette via AP)

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, COLO. — The superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy said Wednesday that she has told athletic coaches to take a bigger role in preventing sexual assaults, pulling them into the yearslong campaign at the school to stem abuse.

Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, who took charge of the school a year ago, said coaches had not been fully involved in what she called the broader conversation about school standards.

Johnson said she has spoken with them twice about her expectations and told them to talk to athletes about sexual assault.

“I was frank about the need for them to help the institution enforce our standards,” she said in an interview. “I was frank about what happens, the complexity of sexual-assault prevention.”

Congress and the Pentagon are closely monitoring sexual assaults at the Air Force, Army and Navy academies. A Department of Defense report in January said a culture of disrespect permeates the schools and contributes to sexual harassment and assaults. The report identified sports and club teams as an area where the academies needed to expand training.

The Air Force Academy took the unusual step of offering back-to-back interviews with Johnson and other leaders and cadets on Wednesday after recent news reports about allegations of sexual abuse and other misconduct by athletes and lax oversight of sports there.

Academy officials have said the allegations were investigated, and where warranted, cadets were court-martialed, expelled or given other punishments.

The academy’s inspector general is about to launch a review of the athletic department, which will include its culture — a term the Air Force often uses when discussing whether the atmosphere is conducive to sexual assaults and other misconduct.

The inspector general, Col. David Kuenzli, said the review is administrative, not criminal. If evidence of crime is uncovered, it would be turned over to the superintendent or the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, he said.

The review will look at how well the department uses its personnel and funds, whether it is improving and whether it is fulfilling its mission.

Kuenzli said he expects it will determine whether the athletic department has a “negative culture.”

He said Johnson ordered the review in July as part of an Air Force-wide mandate for inspections of smaller units. It was not publicly announced until this month, when the Colorado Springs Gazette reported on accusations that athletes had taken drugs, cheated and committed sexual assaults.

The review is expected to be completed by late September or early October. Kuenzli said other units at the school will undergo similar reviews.

Cadet Kimberly Davis, captain of the academy women’s swimming team, said she and others have been thoroughly trained in sexual-assault awareness and how to help other people.

“For every one person that could be bad or could do something wrong, I know 20 other people that would be right there to help me and have my back,” she said.

The academy outside Colorado Springs has about 4,000 students who are commissioned as second lieutenants upon graduation.

Johnson is the first female superintendent of the academy and was a basketball star when she was a student there.

AP writer P. Solomon Banda contributed to this report.

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