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Academy must restore integrity

One in five female cadets says she was sexually assaulted during her time at the Air Force Academy, a Pentagon survey has determined. Worse yet, many female cadets did not report the assaults — which ranged from unwanted touching to rape — because they feared being punished or ostracized.

Newly installed academy leaders have vowed to clean up the problem. Superintendent Lt. Gen. John A. Rosa said in a statement. "It is conclusive that we have a problem. We have to address the problem, and we have to address it now."

An institution charged with training tomorrow's military leaders can expect no less. But this controversy has swirled for months, and yet seven cadets were caught by Colorado Springs police drinking in a hotel room with high school girls late last month. In recent weeks, a senior cadet was charged with the July 20 sexual assault of a woman in downtown Colorado Springs. Could it be that some cadets are slow to comprehend that a new day has dawned at the venerable academy?

The academy's new brass could not have offered a clearer message. The shorthand version was this: Sexual misconduct will not be tolerated; those who fail to live up to the standards of the academy will be expelled.

Brig. Gen. John Weida, the commandant of cadets, recently stood before 4,100 cadets carrying a sword and an equally pointed message: "Ladies and gentlemen, if you think we don't have a sexual assault or sexual harassment problem at the Air Force Academy, your head is in the sand. Pull it out right now. . . . If you're over here thinking this problem has been blown out of proportion by the media, you are wrong. You are wrong."

The true test, of course, is how the academy deals with reports of sexual assaults that come to its attention under the new leadership. Weida, who told cadets that failing to reverse the incidence of sexual assault at the academy threatens the existence of the institution, also expressed confidence that the cadet corps could reestablish trust and confidence in the academy.

The academy's new leaders are to be commended for their frank, no-nonsense approach to this staggering problem. Air Force brass and the cadets themselves know their conduct will be carefully scrutinized. It is our great hope that they will rise to the occasion and strive to restore the academy's honor and reputation.