Denver — Air Force leaders responding to criticism of the Air Force Academy's handling of rape allegations are sending parents of incoming cadets letters saying they are doing everything possible to protect their children.
"We are absolutely committed to supporting victims and prosecuting offenders when criminal acts are reported," said the letter, signed by Air Force Secretary James Roche and Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper.
Parents of roughly 1,000 cadets who arrive at the academy this June will begin receiving the letters Monday, said Lt. Col. Dewey Ford, spokesman for two Air Force groups investigating claims that academy officials improperly handled female cadets' complaints that they were sexually assaulted.
The letter said: "We have made it clear to the cadets that all perpetrators, those who fail to act to prevent assaults, those who knowingly protect perpetrators after the fact, and those who would shun or harass anyone with the courage to come forward and report those criminals will be brought to justice and disciplined appropriately."
Ford said the new letter was separate from letters already sent to the approximately 200 female cadets who will be part of the class of 2007.
In a scandal that has been compared to the Tailhook furor that shook the Navy in 1991, dozens of female cadets have alleged they were reprimanded or ostracized for reporting sexual assaults. Air Force investigators have said at least 56 allegations of sexual abuse at the academy have been reported during the past 10 years, and that there are probably many more female cadets who have not come forward.
Colorado Rep. Diana Degette said Saturday that she and two other women in the House, Heather Wilson, an academy graduate from New Mexico, and Grace Napolitano of California are calling for hearings on the handling of abuse reports, saying a "culture of rape" exists at the academy.
Degette said some Air Force leaders still didn't understand, 27 years after female cadets were first admitted to the academy, that women were an integral part of the armed forces.
Four senators also have called for an independent investigation into academy officials' handling of claims.