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Growing number of Air Force cadets talk about sexual assaults
DENVER -- Sharon Fullilove dreamed of flying fighter jets, hoping the Air Force Academy would be a place where she would learn how to serve her country.
She said her dreams were shattered when she was raped by an upperclassman at the academy.
Fullilove and others kept silent for months, worried that if they reported the assaults, their military careers would be over.
"People have to understand, this is nothing like a normal college," said Fullilove, 21, whose own mother is an Air Force colonel stationed at the academy. "Upperclassmen are your superiors. You have to listen to them and obey their rules. You can't tell them to get out. I didn't feel safe."
The Air Force has identified at least 54 allegations of rape or sexual assault at the academy outside Colorado Springs over the past 10 years, and officials say there are probably many more cadets who have not come forward.
"What frightens me most is the climate that has affected so many others who have not come forward," Air Force Secretary James Roche said Thursday on Capitol Hill. "While we have seen, whatever the number is, 25, 50, there are probably a hundred more that we do not see."
At the academy Friday, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper said he wants to root out any sexual predators still at the academy or in the Air Force.
Jumper said the academy must ensure that conditions in its dormitories are "not conducive for would-be predators to be around females at the wrong time and in the wrong setting."
He said he had no immediate plans to fire any commanders, but added, "Nobody has been absolved of anything, including me."
Many cadets who made the reports say they were ostracized or reprimanded for infractions such as drinking alcohol or having sex in dormitories.
The Air Force is investigating, and at least four U.S. senators have called for an outside inquiry.
Cadet after cadet has told a similar story of arriving at the academy with the vision of being among the best. They formed strong bonds with classmates through training.
But the women say the academy turned out to be a place where females are seen as weak.
"During sexual assault awareness week, people told us that if you make it through all four years without being sexually assaulted, you're lucky," Fullilove said. "They also say if you want to have an Air Force career you should not report it."
Fullilove was a freshman in November 1999 when, she said, an upperclassmen offered her a ride to her dorm from a campus lounge after dark.
She said he stopped the truck, locked the doors and raped her. When he released her, she said she ran to her room and showered, and then shut herself in. When he stopped by her room two days later, she said she decided she could not stay at the academy and went home.
A few months later, at her parents' coaxing, she reported the assault.
The case was closed with no arrests or punishment. Fullilove, who is now a biology major at the University of Arizona, said the man who raped her graduated and is in the Air Force.
Her mother, Air Force Lt. Col. Michaela Shafer, said investigators treated the family poorly.
"They told me my daughter was a liar," she said. "They looked me in the face, a fellow officer, a superior, and told me my daughter, who had been raped, was a liar."
In the past 10 years, two Air Force cadets have been charged with rape, Roche said. One was acquitted, and the other pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven months in jail. Administrative action was taken in other cases because there was not enough evidence to prosecute, he said.
Kate Summers, spokeswoman for the nonprofit Miles Foundation that helps victims of military violence, said most military sexual assault cases involve a subordinate female victim.
"You can't make a blanket statement that men in the military are prone to violence, that's just not true," she said. "But there is a certain type of conditioning in the military as it relates to force. The training at the academies is the use of control and use of power, they're being trained to command. And some take it too far."
Brakey said she was raped three years ago when she was a sophomore.
"I didn't tell anyone because I kept thinking that since he didn't beat me or kill me I was fine, and maybe it was partially my fault," she said.
She said her behavior grew erratic, her grades suffered and she started having nightmares.
In November 2002, she reported her case to officials, who told her she was being investigated for mental health problems. No charges were filed against the suspect, and Brakey was dismissed for health reasons.
If she is unable to return to the academy, she is planning to attend community college.
"I still want to finish," the 23-year-old said. "I've been working for this forever."
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