The Army on Friday shut down a special telephone line that had received more than 1,300 sexual harassment complaints since November, because Army officials said anonymous callers were trying to use it to settle grudges.
Army officials said they had already considered unplugging the phone line because calls had dwindled to a handful a day in recent weeks, from scores a day at the outset. But the decision was cinched by a spate of unsubstantiated accusations by callers after the adultery cases involving the first female B-52 pilot and a leading candidate to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“The hot line was set up for people to seek assistance,” said one senior Army officer. “Now it’s taking on the look of a witch hunt.”
The Army said that it would replace the telephone line on Monday morning with a number for callers who believe themselves to be victims of sexual misconduct. Reports about the behavior of others will be referred elsewhere, including the military police, criminal investigators and equal-opportunity specialists.
Some lawmakers expressed concern that the Army was abruptly replacing an effective system for Army women to voice complaints with an unproven new approach.
“I’m withholding judgment,” said Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. “The hot line served an important purpose. Whether the new assistance hot line is an improvement remains to be seen.”
The sheer volume of calls indicated that many Army women had little confidence that their chain of command took their complaints about sexual misconduct seriously. Other women clearly feared retribution if they reported sexual abuses.
xxxx 1,354 CREDIBLE CALLS As of Wednesday, 1,354 complaints were deemed credible enough to be referred to investigators. Nearly 600 have been resolved and investigators are examining more than 350.