Military cracks down on 'locker room talk'

Pentagon leaders on Friday said they intend to change the culture of the nation’s military academies by eliminating crude and sexist behavior.

“We do aspire to be a national leader, to lead change, generational change," said Air Force Col. Alan Metzler, deputy director for the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, at a press briefing on Friday.

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"We’ve done it with ending discrimination. We've done it with the repeal of 'Don't ask, don't tell.' And we intend to impart a set of values and expectations and standards of behavior and that's how we've led change in these other cultural issues," he said.

Metzler said that includes cracking down on “crude and offensive behavior” and what defense officials called “locker room talk,” because those behaviors show a strong correlation to sexual assault, officials said.

One example would be a comment such as "Women don't belong at the academy," officials said.

An overwhelming majority — 80 to 90 percent of female cadets and midshipmen in focus groups — told officials they experience sexual harassment and sexist behavior at the academies.

Alcohol policies and training will also be reviewed and expanded, officials said.

The move comes after the Pentagon submitted a report to Congress showing that while reports of sexual assaults were down in the 2012-2013 school year, a culture of disrespect towards women still exists.

The Pentagon has come under intense pressure from lawmakers to reduce sexual assault within its ranks, including at military academies.

There were 70 sexual assault cases reported at the academies, down from 80 in the prior school year. In 68 of those cases, it was male-on-female assault. The remaining two were male-on-male.

Reports at the United States Military Academy in West Point decreased from 15 to 10, and at the Air Force Academy from 52 to 45. Reports increased at the United States Naval Academy from 13 to 15. One case at the Naval Academy involved a faculty member.

Officials said peer pressure plays a large role in not reporting sexual assaults or instances of sexist behavior, and identified it as one of the things that they plan to tackle.

“Sex assault is a crime and has no place at the academy, just as it has no place within our own forces,” said Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, director of the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.