Sex harassment in military down slightly 55% of women had problem in past year, survey shows

July 03, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Sexual harassment in the military remains a big problem, but not quite as big as it used to be, the Pentagon said yesterday.

In the largest survey of its kind, 55 percent of women in the United States military reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment in the past year, including rape, assault, groping and pressure for sexual favors. That was a drop of 9 percentage points from results of a 1988 survey.

The military has taken steps to raise consciousness and reduce rape, raunchiness and sexual rowdiness, especially since the 1991 Tailhook Association convention, at which aviators ran amok at a Las Vegas hotel, assaulting women and embarrassing the Navy.

The new survey suggests some progress, Pentagon officials said yesterday, and a slight majority of the women surveyed said they thought their leaders were making honest efforts toward improving.

Sixty percent of the female soldiers, sailors and aviators surveyed who had served at least six years said sexual harassment in the military was on the decline. In a 1988 survey, 64 percent of the women who responded said they had been subjected to unwanted sexual behavior.

But Edwin Dorn, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said: "The secretary of defense, the service secretaries and this department's senior military leaders are not at all satisfied with the level of unwanted behavior that this survey uncovered."

Dorn said he saw hope for the future as more women rose to power in the military. "As women begin to occupy more of the war-fighting roles, as they begin to occupy more of the leadership roles, I think that we'll see a salutary effect on sexual harassment, just as we saw in the case of the racial integration of the force."

The new survey, to which about 47,000 military women and men responded, found that 78 percent of the women said they had experienced at least one of 25 kinds of behavior that ranged from suggestive talk to sexual assault. About one-third of those women said those experiences did not rise to the level of sexual harassment.

Rank seemed to matter little: 75 percent of female officers reported some form of inappropriate behavior, compared with 83 percent of junior enlisted women.

Of those who experienced what they considered sexual harassment, 77 percent said it occurred while on duty, 44 percent said soldiers of equal rank were the harassers and 43 percent said the harassment came from superiors.

Pub Date: 7/03/96

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