Venting the anger of Congress for the first time since a major scandal about sex abuse in the Army became public 10 days ago, a dozen female House members grilled four top Army generals on Monday about widespread cases of sexual assault and harassment and said they would pay close attention to the Army’s response.
The closed meeting on Capitol Hill, which lasted 70 minutes, produced little new information, but it was rich in symbolism. Congress is reacting faster and with more pointed questions than it did initially to the Navy’s Tailhook scandal five years ago. Leading that response is a group of Republican and Democratic women, the 40-member Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues.
“We’re not going away, we’re watching,” Rep. Susan Molinari, R-N.Y., Republican who was a part of the group, told reporters after the meeting.
The generals, including Lt. Gen. Frederick Vollrath, the Army’s top personnel officer, and Brig. Gen. Daniel Doherty, the head of the Army Criminal Investigative Command, promised swift punishment for the perpetrators and protection for women in the ranks.
But the officers offered few new solutions beyond agreeing to maintain the toll-free telephone line for reports of sexual harassment. They were cool to a proposal from several of the lawmakers that a permanent “ombudswoman” be named to investigate harassment complaints from women in the Army. Officials felt such a position might undermine the chain of command.
The lawmakers said they demanded to know why the Army’s steps against harassment had failed.
“There are procedures that the Army has in place,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., “but while that looks good on paper, something has gone wrong. What are the causes of that?”
Senior Army generals say the scope and seriousness of the scandal has taken them by surprise. But it may be partly their fault. The Army, until recently, lacked a fundamental tool for detecting sexual harassment: the special telephone line.
The Navy and Marine Corps set up a toll-free line for anyone seeking advice on dealing with sexual harassment in 1992; the Air Force established a number in 1994.
But the Army did not set up its line until four drill sergeants and a captain at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland were charged with raping or sexually harassing at least a dozen female recruits.
Nearly 4,500 women have called the Army’s special telephone line. The number is 800-903-4241.