Two Senate committees are now investigating what is shaping up as the military's biggest sex-assault scandal since Tailhook in 1991.
During the past two weeks, 12 women cadets have come forward and charged that they were raped or sexually assaulted while attending the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, and then reprimanded for reporting the attacks.
"You feel like you're dirty, you feel like nobody's going to believe you," said one victim, Liz, who didn't want her full name revealed. She said she felt completely degraded when she was raped by an upperclassman. "You feel like you're not worth anything."
Another cadet, Ann, who also didn't want her last name used, said she was intimidated after she reported an assault. "The message is that rape is acceptable," she said. "You don't want to say anything about it."
The scandal emerged after a cadet complained to Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., last month, and Denver ABC affiliate KMGH launched a multi-part investigative report. Allard then called on the secretary of the Air Force to investigate. A team of five senior Pentagon officials arrived at the academy earlier this week to interview rape victims, other cadets and administrators.
Gen. John Dallagher, the academy's superintendent, admitted to KMGH that some of the women may have been treated unfairly.
"Unfairly is probably in the eye of the individual," he told KMGH. "But it's not been handled as well as it should have been … and they [women cadets] may have been treated unfairly."
Senator Calls for Hearing to Investigate
Allard told ABCNEWS that he may call for a full hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. "I'm amazed that the academy and that students at the academy haven't gotten the message on how serious these allegations are," he said.
The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs is also initiating an investigation on these allegations.
Liz said it was widely known that female cadets would be punished if they reported a sexual assault. She says she left the academy after commanders responded to her allegations by charging her with drinking, fraternization, and having sex in the dormitory.
"If you want your career to just dissolve, " she said, "then go ahead and report. It is something nobody wants to do at all."
Allard says the complaints have been limited to the Air Force Academy but he is considering asking for a review of all military academies. "I think from what we're able to ascertain from these early reports is that we have a problem and it's a bigger problem than we anticipated."
A survey taken by the Air Force Academy last month found that one-fifth of all cadets lack confidence in the Air Force's ability to pursue rape allegations. Most of them were women cadets.