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Activists call for stiffer internal oversight of military academy sex assault cases

Advocates for victims of sexual assault in the military called on the White House Monday to give new powers to the Pentagon inspector general to review complaints by students at the Naval Academy and the other service academies.

The move is the latest step in a campaign by the Service Women's Action Network, which is battling sexual assault and discrimination throughout the military, including at the elite training grounds for the nation's future military leaders.

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Under military law, a midshipman or cadet who is assaulted is supposed to report the incident to their immediate superior, who is then supposed to report up the chain of command.

SWAN said its draft executive order would offer midshipmen and cadets another avenue to report — and bring the options available to students at the service academies closer in line with the protections students at civilian colleges have.

"We call on the President to make good on his commitment to ending gender based violence on campuses for all students — especially those who have heeded the call to serve their country," SWAN policy director Greg Jacob, a former Marine Corps officer, said in a statement.

"With a stroke of his pen, the President could increase accountability and transparency at our Service Academies."

Neither the White House nor the Naval Academy responded to requests for comment.

SWAN said the draft executive order that it sent to the White House on Monday would give the Department of Defense inspector general more power to investigate complaints from midshipmen and cadets.

The inspector general can already investigate sexual assault cases, a spokeswoman for the office said.

But the activists say their proposal would make it easier for victims to come forward.

"The proposed executive order will provide greater support to cadets and midshipmen who have been the subject of sexual misconduct," said Erica Hunt, the executive director of SWAN. "This is a crucial step in ending sexual violence among our future military leaders."

Sexual assault continues to trouble the service academies, as it does civilian universities.

Incidents of unwanted contact at the Naval Academy fell last year, and more people who say they were attacked came forward, the Pentagon reported in February. But alleged attackers in the military were rarely convicted, and people who filed reports said they faced high rates of retaliation.

Activists against sexual assault in the military have lobbied Congress to take the decision to prosecute cases out of the chain of command. They say the interests of commanders in sexual-assault cases are conflicted, and victims would be more likely to come forward if they could report to an outside authority.

The Service Women's Action Network and other rights groups are suing the Department of Defense under the Freedom of Information Act to gain access to admissions records to determine whether women are treated fairly when they apply to the elite schools.

The groups say the records could help determine whether the schools should be doing more to accommodate female cadets and midshipmen.

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In March, lawyers for the Defense Department said in court papers that the groups had no basis for seeking relief in the courts. The case is pending before a federal judge in Connecticut.

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