Harassment at academies persists, GAO study shows

April 05, 1995|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- From assaults that are not adequately punished to pinholes through their class pictures, women at the nation's three military academies continue to have major problems with sexual harassment, government auditors said.

More than one-third of the women said they were exposed at least once a year to unwelcome physical contact such as kissing or fondling, the General Accounting Office reported in a study released yesterday.

The percentage of female students indicating that they had been harassed verbally or physically has increased at the Naval and Air Force academies since a similar study covering the 1990-1991 school year, the report said. The latest study covered the 1993-1994 academic year.

At the Naval Academy, the figure increased from 50 percent to 70 percent, while at the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colo., the increase was from 59 percent to 78 percent.

At the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., the figure increased from 76 percent to 80 percent, the GAO reported.

The findings were based on exposure to at least one of 10 forms of harassment, ranging from derogatory nicknames and jokes to unwanted sexual advances.

A Defense Department spokesman said that the Pentagon had not seen the report, but that the department stood by an initiative begun last summer to eliminate sexual harassment.

The report included comments from the women at the academies indicating their frustration.

"I was assaulted, and I am very displeased with the actions taken," said a cadet at the Air Force Academy.

"Guys in my company specifically tell me girls shouldn't be in the military," said a Naval Academy midshipman.

Because there had been no change since 1990-1991 in the negative consequences of reporting harassment, underreporting of such incidents is likely to continue, the report said. The percentages of women who said they would hesitate to report harassment out of fear of reprisals were: West Point, 60 percent; Naval Academy, 41 percent; and Air Force Academy, 40 percent.

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