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Cadets speak out on sexual assault, retaliation at Air Force Academy

CBS News logo CBS News 12/11/2017

a man and a woman looking at the camera: Emily Hazen and Melissa Hildremyr © Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Emily Hazen and Melissa Hildremyr In a six-month investigation you'll see only on "CBS This Morning," we traveled to the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs to investigate sexual assault in the military. The academy is where America's best and brightest go to become commissioned officers in the Air Force. But more than a dozen current and former cadets tell CBS News they reported their sexual assaults to the Air Force Academy only to experience retaliation by their peers and their commanders.

Emily Hazen, who said she dreamed of going to the Air Force Academy since she was seven years old, was supposed to graduate in 2015 as a commissioned officer from the elite academy. Both she and Melissa Hildremyr, who also called the academy her "dream school," chose to abandon their military careers after they were sexually assaulted by fellow cadets. 

"I was sexually assaulted my freshmen year... and the sexual harassment I endured eventually made me leave," Hazen said.

"Describe that harassment," O'Donnell said.

"My perpetrator would follow me on runs. He would tell me he urinated on my car. He would write crude things on my car, like, in the fog. He would send me horrible text messages," Hazen said. "He would stalk me, he would ask me where I was going in my little brown dress."

"Was he ever reprimanded in any way?" O'Donnell asked.

"He was talked to by his commander about a very crude text message I received and told that that was unbecoming of an officer," Hazen said.

"What ever happened to that cadet?" O'Donnell asked.

"He graduated," Hazen said.

"And what happened to you?"

"I left," Hazen responded. Hildremyr said she was sexually assaulted by two fellow cadets, and she intended to keep it a secret. She admits they were all drinking underage. She said they began to harass her, and she filed a report about the assault. But she told us agents based at the academy with the Air Force office of special investigations had already made up their minds. "They would attack me. They would say things like, 'These guys have every reason to tell the truth and you have every reason to lie.' And they would just – they made me feel like it was my fault this had happened to me. Like, yes, I was drinking under age and I shouldn't have been doing that," Hildremyr said.

"But so were they," O'Donnell said.

"They were. But it was my fault that I got sexually assaulted," Hildremyr said. Teresa Beasley was the Air Force Academy's top official on sexual assault prevention and response for 10 years.

"How are cadets treated when they go public with the sexual assault?" O'Donnell asked her.

"It is typically negative," Beasley said. "There are usually negative things said on anonymous social media... They're ostracized frequently by their squad mates… and usually word spreads pretty fast. And word gets out who is the victim. … They'll have their name plates taken off the room and thrown on the ground. People won't sit with them at lunch."

"How are they treated by their commanders?" O'Donnell asked.

"A lot of it is depending on the commander. Some commanders unfortunately will begin retaliating on the cadet as well," Beasley said. That's why two current cadets are risking their careers by speaking to us about their sexual assaults. They requested that we protect their identities. "He held me down while he-- he-- while he assaulted me," Cadet 1 told CBS News.

"I am at some house. I don't know where I am. And he is raping me. And then he-- I can't-- I can't fight him off. I can't do anything," Cadet 2 said. "And I was going to take it to my grave." "There's no understanding in the commanders about sexual assault, the trauma, the effects. They don't know. They don't realize that when I'm depressed in my bed, it's not 'cause, 'Oh, I don't wanna go to class today,'" Cadet 1 said.

"I was terrified of reporting. Because I've heard of things that happen to people. And it did happen to me. So it's not horror stories," Cadet 2 said. "It's slut shaming. It's victim blaming. It's rumors. It's your career on the line. I've never wanted this. All I've ever wanted to do in my life was serve my country and be one of the best officers that I could be."

"It's the most unfortunate thing. You go there, 'cause you want to protect your country. And they-- they don't protect you," Cadet 1 said.

"Do you regret reporting the assault?" O'Donnell asked.

"I regret it every day. I regret it every day, because of everything that came after," Cadet 1 said, crying. "I just wish that I had never came forward. Because I never asked to be assaulted."

"What would the Air Force lose, if they lost you?" O'Donnell asked.

"Someone who's passionate to be in the-- to be in the uniform, someone who wants to serve her country, someone who wants to lead America's young men and women and protect our nation. That's all I wanted to do," Cadet 1 said.

The Air Force Academy tells us that in the last five years, 11 cadet survivors of sexual assault left the school. Eight disenrolled "voluntarily." As for the other three, one was over an honor violation, another for poor academics, and a third due to fitness deficiency. 

On Tuesday, we will hear more from Teresa Beasley, who led the academy's sexual assault prevention and resources office. She raises concerns about the way sexual assault cases at the academy were handled and counted. The Air Force Academy also plans to respond to our reporting. We will hear from its new superintendent, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, tomorrow on "CBS This Morning." 

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