Military Women Report Sexual Harrassment

The New York Times

March 14, 2008 – Washington, DC — One-third of women in the military and 6 percent of men said they were sexually harassed, according to the latest Pentagon survey on the issue.

The figure for women was worse than the previous finding several years ago but better than a similar survey taken in 1995, the Defense Department said in a report Friday.

A separate report on sexual assaults showed that fewer cases were reported among military personnel — 2,688 cases reported last year by people in uniform compared with 2,947 reported the year before. But officials said they haven’t been collecting the data long enough to determine whether a downward trend in assaults was developing.

Both reports are mandated by Congress. The finding on sexual harassment was from the Defense Manpower Data Center, which is to report every four years and in for the latest report surveyed more than 23,000 people in 2006. The one on sexual assaults is taken from reports of actual incidents reported in 2007.

Officials said that overall, the survey showed both men and women polled think the climate on sexual relations is better in the military than it is in the nation as a whole. And the survey found that a majority of those surveyed believe the military’s training on sexual harassment is effective.

Among the findings:

–In 2006, 34 percent of women surveyed said they had been sexually harassed.

Rachel Lipari, senior scientist with the data center, said that included a wide range of problems from crude and offensive behavior — ”your basic locker room talk” — to unwanted sexual attention, ”which is being repeatedly asked for dates even though you said no or ask to enter into a sexual relationship even though you said no, and then your classic sexual coercion, your classic quid pro quo.”

The 34 percent figure for women who reported harassment compared with 24 percent in 2002 and 46 percent in 1995.

–About 5 percent of women said they had experienced unwanted sexual contact, ranging from unwanted touching, attempted sexual intercourse and completed sexual intercourse. That compared with 2.7 percent in 2002 and 6.2 percent in 1995.

Officials say the huge dip in problems reported in 2002 might have been an anomaly. The survey was taken only months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on American soil, and Lipari said officials believe 9-11 had an effect on how people responded to the survey.

Perhaps ”people were likely to not take into account (the harassment) experiences that they might have had” or perhaps ”we were in a window when people were actually trying to be nicer to each other,” she said.

— Officials said active duty members gave positive marks for improvement in defense department sexual misconduct training. About 90 percent indicated they received training in the previous year on topics related to sexual harassment and sexual assault and that their training was effective.

–The 2,688 sexual assaults reported last year by people in uniform compared to 2,947 reported the year before and 2,400 in 2005.

Officials warned that changes in the method of reporting data made it difficult to compare numbers year to year.

”The minimal decrease in numbers should not be necessarily viewed as any type of indicator or change,” said Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman. ”It takes several years to develop usable trends in data.”

Reports of sexual assault reports had jumped by about 24 percent in 2006 and nearly 40 percent in 2005. Officials attributed the increases partly to more aggressive efforts to encourage victims to come forward.

— There were 181 courts-martial last year for sexual assault, 201 nonjudicial punishments and 218 other administrative actions and discharges.

— In 111 cases, commanders couldn’t take action because the case fell to a civilian court or foreign authority, in 131 cases the subject was unidentified; in 797 the charge was unsubstantiated, unfounded or there was insufficient evidence.

–572 cases are pending. The number of investigations completed don’t correspond to the number of assaults last year because some of the cases finished last year had been reported in a previous year.

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-N.Y., said she is concerned that too few perpetrators are being brought to justice and not all victims are being helped.

”Even if these numbers are accurate, the problem of violence against women in the military remains pervasive,” she said in a statement.

This is the fourth year the military has compiled detailed statistics on sexual assaults. The reporting methods have changed each year, complicating efforts to evaluate progress or determine whether it is the actual assaults or the reporting that is going up or down.

The cases involved members of the military who were either victims or accused of the assaults. The military counts rape, nonconsensual sodomy, indecent assault and attempts to commit any of those as sexual assault.

Also, this is only the second full year in which the military has included in the totals sexual assaults that are filed under a program that allows victims to report the incident and receive health care or counseling services but does not notify law enforcement or commanders.

Of the 2,688 reports filed last year, 705 were initially made under that restricted program. But victims are allowed to change their minds and pursue an investigation later, and that was done in 102 of those cases, thus 603 remain restricted.


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