Report shows military sexual harassment a problem

WASHINGTON (AP) — The latest sex scandal rocking the Army again proves that the military, a system based on unquestioned obedience to superiors, still has a long way to go to eliminate sexual harassment.
“This is still a man’s profession, with a lot of men who intellectually and emotionally have not accepted that the military could be women’s work,” said Lawrence Korb, a former Pentagon personnel director.
Four drill sergeants and a company commander were charged with crimes ranging from misconduct to rape of female trainees at the Army Ordnance Center at Aberdeen, Md., Army officials announced last week. The captain and two sergeants face courts-martial.
On Saturday, post spokesman John Yaquiant said 15 more drill sergeants and instructors were suspended from duty. Yaquiant said the number of suspensions could increase or decrease as the probe continues.
Korb, a specialist on military issues at Washington’s Brookings Institution, said the Army must look into why men with a tendency to abuse power over women would be put in such jobs and why the incidents alleged at Aberdeen remained hidden for months and came to light only after a recruit complained.
“Trainees are our newest, most vulnerable members,” secretary of the Army Togo West said after the scandal was disclosed. “It could be that embraced as they were in that training environment, where their sole authority and means of redress is the person who is in charge of the training, that they may not have felt they had a redress.”
Speaking on Friday’s “Newshour” on PBS, West said if violations are found to have occurred, the perpetrators will be held accountable. He also said he is forming an advisory panel to determine “whether this is any kind of a wake-up call for other places in our army where superiors lead subordinates and have the opportunity to take advantage of that authority.”
Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., said the Army “talks zero tolerance, but they implement it with a wink-wink.”
“It’s a top-down hierarchy, and all males at the top,” the congresswoman said. “Reporting sexual harassment requires listening to all people equally, no matter what their rank, and that’s a radical concept for the military.”
Schroeder holds the Navy’s Tailhook scandal partly responsible for such alleged incidents as Aberdeen. “The other services were too busy patting themselves on the back, saying Thank God, we’re not the Navy,’ and look what happened,” she said.
In a Pentagon study on sexual harassment completed last May, the Navy was reported to have made more progress than the other services in combatting the problem. The study found that the incidence of sexual harassment complaints is going down in all services, from 64 percent of women in 1988 to 55 percent last year. And it said the Army ranks second to the Marine Corps in its rate of sexual harassment.
The study defined sexual harassment as “unwanted or uninvited sexual attention,” ranging from actual or attempted rape and assault to such things as jokes and whistles.
The study of 90,000 service members, released in July, did not disclose figures on sexual harassment rates in each service.
The Pentagon survey reported that only 45 percent of Army women think their senior commanders make “honest and reasonable efforts” to halt sexual harassment. It also found that Army women are losing confidence in their leaders’ attempts to combat the problem. The 54 percent who believed in 1988 that Army leaders were making an honest effort had fallen to 45 percent in the latest tally.
Frank Rush, a top Pentagon personnel official, said the survey had good news in that all services were doing better in combatting the problem.
In the Marine Corps, 75 percent of the 8,000 women reported sex harassment in 1988, a rate that dropped to 64 percent in 1995 but remained highest among the services.
Corps spokesman Col. Stuart Wagner said the Marines have extended basic training to include a week dedicated to instilling values.
The Air Force, as in 1988, continued to show the lowest overall percentage of harassment among women surveyed, at 49 percent. The Coast Guard reported that 59 percent of its female personnel complained of harassment.