Army launches sexual harassment investigation at two St. Louis bases

October 29, 1992|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- After receiving complaints from scores of women, the Army has started an extensive investigation of sexual harassment at two large installations in St. Louis, senior Army officials said yesterday.

The complaints were brought to the Army's attention by consultants it had dispatched last summer to see whether sexual harassment was widespread on its bases.

The consultants were sent to seven installations around the country as a result of the Army's eagerness to avoid a harassment scandal like the one that had developed at the Tailhook convention of Navy aviators last year.

Unlike the Tailhook scandal, the accusations at the two Army installations involve only civilian employees and supervisors.

Army investigators are looking into as many as 100 accusations of verbal abuse and unwanted sexual advances by senior- and middle-level civilian supervisors against female civilian employees at the Army Aviation and Troop Command and the Army Reserve Personnel Center.

The two commands employ a total of 6,400 uniformed and civilian workers in St. Louis.

The secretary of the Army, Michael P. W. Stone, ordered the investigation this month after the military consultants observed problems at the two commands during visits and interviews from Aug. 10 to Aug. 13.

"We're alarmed by the reports, but I'm reluctant to discuss any details until we have done a more in-depth review," Robert S. Silberman, the assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, said in an interview. He is overseeing the consultants' efforts.

The army inquiry comes at a time when the Pentagon's inspector general is preparing a final report on the Tailhook scandal, in which at least 26 women were assaulted by naval aviators at a convention in September 1991 in Las Vegas.

Four admirals and the secretary of the Navy lost their jobs as a result of the scandal, and all the armed forces are revamping their sexual-harassment sensitivity training and toughening enforcement of existing regulations.

The Army consultants have found that senior officers and noncommissioned officers lack sensitivity to the problems of sexual harassment, despite repeated warnings from top Army officials.

The strongest criticisms came from H. Minton Francis, a West Point graduate and retired Army colonel. The Army has not made the consultants' reports public, but Mr. Francis said in an interview that scores of female workers and some male workers he spoke to at the aviation command had made as many as 100 allegations of "open, vicious sexual harassment," including verbal abuse, obscene language and unwanted remarks from their civilian supervisors.

"I called it a cesspool in my report," said Mr. Francis, who added that uniformed commanders had failed to provide proper oversight. Two other consultants were less critical in their assessments but still warned of impending problems.

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