Sex-harassment hot line could become permanent

November 19, 1996|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- After meeting yesterday with a group of female legislators on Capitol Hill, top Army commanders are looking into the possibility of a permanent hot line for female soldiers to report harassment, as well as an "ombudsman" office to handle such complaints.

Army commanders "are going to continue to ask the right questions as to what went on and what went wrong at Aberdeen [Proving Ground]. And what is going wrong within our armed services. There's a culture that needs to be changed," Rep. Susan Molinari, a New York Republican, said after the 90-minute, closed-door meeting with four generals.

The generals -- including Lt. Gen. Frederick Vollrath, deputy chief of staff for Army personnel -- did not provide new information about how widespread the sexual misconduct at training facilities is, or how many other charges are expected to be forwarded. Charges including rape and sodomy have been brought against trainers at Aberdeen, and the probe has spread to other bases.

The half-dozen female legislators said they expect to visit Aberdeen, but no date has been set.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, a New York Democrat, said the Army provided statistics on how many women have been harassed and reported it to commanders. But a higher percentage of Army women, she noted, "handled the problem on their own."

Rep. Patricia Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat, said she was told by the generals that each woman who filed a legitimate complaint is being seen within five days.

"They're making an all-out commitment to deal with this," she said.

The generals said it would take three or four months to get to the bottom of the scandal, Schroeder added.

The Army's toll-free hot line, set up to handle complaints from around the nation, has received 4,490 calls as of yesterday afternoon, with 578 meriting investigation.

An Army spokesman said that 106 complaints concerned Aberdeen and that 472 concerned other military locations.

Schroeder said the generals are trying to determine whether any complaints were ignored. "The question is why didn't this personnel system work? There were some people in the chain of command, if they didn't know, should have known," she said.

Pub Date: 11/19/96

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