Naval Academy calls sex harassment survey biased

April 06, 1995|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,Sun Staff Writer

Naval Academy officials and some midshipmen aren't buying a congressional survey that says 70 percent of female midshipmen have experienced repeated sexual harassment. Their research shows that nearly all of the women feel accepted in the brigade, they say.

"The ones that are complaining are usually the ones that have problems with the academics of this place," said Midshipman Katie Dooley, a senior. "We are trying so hard to assimilate, and they keep bringing that up."

Debbie Roberge, also a senior, said those who are complaining can't meet the academy's rigorous standards. "They can't hang with it physically or mentally," she said.

The congressional survey, which randomly polled students at the Naval and Air Force academies and West Point, was released Monday by the Government Accounting Office. It was a follow-up to a 1990 survey requested by Sen. John Glenn, an Ohio Democrat, after two highly publicized sexual harassment cases at the Naval Academy.

The confidential survey of 470 male and female midshipmen found that the number of women experiencing incidents of sexual harassment had increased 20 percent since the first survey.

Naval Academy officials said yesterday that the congressional poll was biased and that their own annual quality-of-life surveys show a growing acceptance of women in the last five years.

In the most recent academy poll, in January, 90 percent of female midshipmen surveyed said they had been "assimilated" into the brigade,, said Glenn Gottschalk, a retired captain who is acting director of the Character Development Office.

"I think we are doing better than society as a whole," he said. "Compared to the other academies, we have less harassment, but we are still the focal point of attention."

The congressional survey, which asked participants about 10 forms of sexual harassment, found that 80 percent of women at West Point and 78 percent of those at the Air Force Academy had experienced at least one form of it.

"Not only is this problem continuing, it appears to be getting worse in certain areas," Mr. Glenn said in a statement. "This is simply unacceptable."

He asked Pentagon officials to explain why the situation was worsening and what they were going to do to correct the situation.

Mr. Gottschalk said that since the 1989 incident in which a female midshipman was dragged from her room, handcuffed to a urinal and taunted, academy officials have implemented 112 recommendations made by several committees studying the issue.

Among those initiatives are mentor programs, general orders forbidding unwanted touching among students and educating first-year students, known as plebes, about how to report harassment.

Mr. Gottschalk said the congressional survey was biased because of the way the questions were phrased and because it did not define terms such as "unwanted sexual advances."

"And anytime you put a title on a survey, it biases the answers," he said. "The less a subject knows about why they are being surveyed, the more likely you get an answer that is accurate.

The congressional survey "did not ask if women felt accepted or not," Mr. Gottschalk said.

The academy's quality-of-life questionnaires do not include specific questions about sexual harassment, he said.

Spencer Abbott, a senior, said the academy has done "a tremendous job" of combating sexual harassment.

"The average midshipmen does not tolerate it," he said. "But sometimes someone may make a comment that makes someone feel uncomfortable. It's just a matter of educating people."

Midshipman Amy Morrison, a junior, said she believes complaints of sexual harassment are taken seriously by academy officials.

"I don't think I would feel embarrassed to say something about sexual harassment," she said. "It is not unacceptable to say you feel uncomfortable about something that is said or done."

Ms. Dooley said she feels lucky to be at the academy and that male midshipmen seem like brothers to her.

"I'm sure that there are guys here who think we don't belong, but they tend to keep their mouths shut," she said.

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