At Air Force Academy, 'zero tolerance' is no-fly

August 30, 1994|By Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The Air Force's "zero tolerance" policy against sexual discrimination apparently isn't sinking in at one of its flagship institutions, the Air Force Academy.

One-third of female faculty and staff members -- not cadets -- say they have experienced sexual discrimination, including harassment, according to a recent academy-wide survey obtained by the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph. Among male employees, 20 percent reported similar problems.

The Respect and Dignity Survey addressed all types of discrimination, but gender-based problems were cited twice as often as those involving race, religion or age. Unfair treatment and derogatory comments were most common, followed by sexual harassment and verbal abuse. Only a few survey respondents reported physical assault or touching.

Academy officials have refused to release the survey, given in February to about 2,000 military and civilian employees, or comment on its findings. But they say the academy's policy against sexual discrimination is clear and strictly enforced.

"We take such allegations seriously," said Col. Joe Purka, an academy spokesman. In the past year, some academy employees found guilty of sexual harassment have been counseled, reprimanded, suspended without pay or fired, he said.

"They've had all possible warnings. They know the penalties. But some people, for any number of reasons, may refuse to take it to heart."

The problem is not limited to the academy. The Air Force in particular has a poor record of handling sexual-harassment complaints, some say.

"The Air Force status on this is primitive compared to the other services," said Bobbie Carleton, spokeswoman for WANDAS, or Women Active in Our Nation's Defense, Their Advocates and Supporters. More than two-thirds of the harassment complaints received by the national advocacy group in Denver come from Air Force women, she said.

The service also has come under scrutiny because of a female sergeant's claim that she was retaliated against for testifying before Congress in March about sexual harassment.

"It's strange, because the Air Force portrays itself as being the most sophisticated of the services and most accepting of women," Ms. Carleton said.

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