The Army issued a searing indictment of itself Thursday, asserting that “sexual harassment exists throughout the Army, crossing gender, rank and racial lines.” Sexual discrimination was found to be even more prevalent and the service’s rank and file “uniformly do not have trust and confidence in their leaders” on the issues, the study said.
The Army accused commanders of ignoring the problems and allowing inappropriate behavior to be “commonplace,” contending leaders were more focused on combat deployments and cutbacks than taking care of the needs of their most vulnerable soldiers.
The service’s largest-ever study of sexual harassment was ordered in the aftermath of the scandal last November at the U.S. Army Ordnance Center in Aberdeen, Md., where drill sergeants preyed upon young female recruits.
Appearing grim-faced at a Pentagon news conference, Army Secretary Togo West attempted to draw a distinction between sexual harassment, which he said “continues to be a problem” throughout the service, and the sexual abuses - rapes and assaults - at Aberdeen.
“What happened at Aberdeen was an aberration,” insisted West. “Sexual abuse of trainees and soldiers is not endemic in the Army.”
Both West and Gen. Dennis Reimer, the Army chief of staff, pledged the service will move forward to eradicate sexual misconduct and punish abuse.
“We will continue to come down hard on it, wherever we find it, and we will stamp it out,” Reimer said.
Paying closer attention to giving each member of the military the respect and treatment they are due does not mean “we’ve suddenly gone all warm and fuzzy,” West said, citing a century-old Army dictum that “if you treat the troops with respect, they will reward you in return.”
Currently, 14 percent of the Army’s 480,000 soldiers are women and they are needed in the event of war, Reimer said.
The two-volume study was accompanied by an Army inspector general’s report on the Army’s training program, and a separate “action plan” aimed at fixing many of the problems turned up by a senior review panel. The action plan recommends, among other things, requiring a week of training for recruits on ethics and moral values and a revamping of the selection and training for drill sergeants.
White House spokesman Mike McCurry said President Clinton believes the actions being taken by the Army will help prevent sexual misconduct. He said the president “views with concern all allegations of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct.”
The study by a panel of retired, active-duty and senior Army officials said that “incidents of gender bias, sexism and sex discrimination occur often throughout the Army.” Indeed, sexual misconduct is so commonplace, the study said, that “soldiers seem to accept such behaviors as a normal part of Army life.”
It said that sexual discrimination “is more common through the Army than is sexual harassment,” and that the Army’s attempts to educate its trainees and leaders on the issues have failed. Many of the Army’s commanders don’t attend training sessions that are meant to deal with such issues, and the panel found the training to be ineffective and deemed to be run only by women and minority members.
The report also found that the victims of sexual assault are given little assistance. Also, men believe that Army standards are inequitable and that women are made to perform to less demanding standards.
“It clearly is not a pretty picture,” commented Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., a member of the House National Security Committee. “I commend the Army for taking a hard, comprehensive look at how soldiers behave towards each other.”
Maj. Gen. Richard Siegfried, the primary author, told reporters that he believed the report revealed a pattern more of inappropriate conduct than major sexual abuse. “We don’t have soldiers cowering in fear of being sexually molested.” he said.
The survey said that:
Seventy-eight percent of the women and 76 percent of the men interviewed had experienced “crude or offensive behavior” during the past year.
Seventy-two percent of the women and 63 percent of the men had experienced “sexist behavior” and that 47 percent of the women and 30 percent of the men received “unwanted sexual attention.”
Fifteen percent of the women and 8 percent of the men and experienced “sexual coercion” and that 7 percent of the women and 6 percent of the men experience “sexual assault.
The panel conducted the study over a 10-month period, meeting with 35,000 soldiers and commanders at 59 Army installations.