Military seeks standardized abuse reports Army, Navy, Air Force define, log cases of harassment differently

'We're correcting it'

Congress to study why Aberdeen allegations took so long to surface

November 22, 1996|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite and Tom Bowman | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite and Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Pentagon efforts to get a clear picture of sexual harassment in the military have been hampered by conflicting definitions and reporting standards among the Army, Navy and Air Force, a military spokesman acknowledged yesterday.

Although Congress ordered the military to standardize its reporting in 1989 in line with the Federal Incident Reporting System, used by the FBI, no funding was provided for the reform.

Now, in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations at Aberdeen Proving Ground, the Pentagon is working on a better system for collating complaints of harassment and is moving toward uniform standards, spokesman Kenneth Bacon said yesterday at news briefing.

"It was a deficiency that we don't have uniform figures. The secretary [of defense] realizes that," he said. "We're correcting it.

"The department is in the process of trying to come up with uniform reporting techniques that will give us a much clearer picture of not only sexual harassment, but various types of sexual harassment, including rape, assault, et cetera, in the military."

Fallout from the Aberdeen Proving Ground scandal -- in which 20 soldiers have been investigated in allegations ranging from harassment to rape -- continued with these developments:

House Speaker Newt Gingrich has ordered a congressional panel to investigate whether the Navy and Air Force have been affected by the sort of sexual abuse reported by female Army trainees at Aberdeen and other training bases.

In a letter this week ordering the House National Security Committee to undertake the probe, Gingrich wrote: "It is critical for Congress to ensure that all allegations of abuse are aggressively investigated and that appropriate actions are taken all military services to punish those responsible and to prevent such abuses in the future."

A congressional delegation will visit Aberdeen on Dec. 11 to see why the allegations at the U.S. Ordnance Center and School took so long to surface. Some charges against instructors there are more than a year old.

"What we want to do is talk with trainees and drill sergeants," Rep. Tillie Fowler, a Florida Republican, said in an interview yesterday. "What we're concerned about is what went wrong. You look at [the Army's procedures for reporting sexual assault] on paper and it looks great."

Fowler will travel to Aberdeen with Rep. Steve Buyer, an Indiana Republican, and Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Maryland Republican whose district includes Aberdeen, will accompany the group, which Fowler expects to grow to about a dozen members.

The Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, the Pentagon's main in-house advocacy group for women in uniform, will investigate sexual harassment on training bases as a priority next year.

"They will begin visiting training sites and talking with not only women there but also NCOs and commanders about the training fTC environment, with a particular eye to sexual harassment," Bacon said.

Meanwhile, he said, Defense Secretary William J. Perry told the secretaries of the Army, Air Force and Navy yesterday to find the money to create a common re- porting system for harassment and other problems.

Perry first ordered such a move Oct. 15, Bacon said, but the department's bureaucracy has not acted.

Madeline Morris, a Duke University law professor and expert on military crime, said the Pentagon's push for better information about harassment is needed.

"At least, if we had intergovernmental statistics we would be able to find out whether we have a problem, what the problem looks like and how we might solve it. As it is, it is almost impossible to get a handle on what's going on," she said.

Morris said she spent years on a statistical analysis of serious, violent crime in the services compared with civilian society. Had a uniform system been in place, her study would have taken days, she said.

"I had to go to each service and get what they had by way of statistics, which were noncomparable, all kept in a different way, with different bases," she said.

Her research showed that the services were markedly less violent than a similar cross-section of civilian society. But there was less difference in the incidence of rape, perhaps attributable to attitudes toward masculinity and gender perpetuated in the services.

Last week, Perry ordered the secretaries of the Air Force and Navy to review their steps to implement the military's policy of zero tolerance of sexual harassment in the ranks, particularly at training bases.

The Army is also appointing a civilian-military panel to look at its overall management of the increasing role of women in the military and at ways to reduce sexual harassment. Members of the panel, to be headed by a general, are expected to be announced today.

By 4 p.m. yesterday, operators on the toll-free crisis hot line at Aberdeen had received 5,066 calls, of which 672 have been referred to investigators. Of these, 111 related to Aberdeen Proving Ground, and 561 to other military facilities around the country.

Pub Date: 11/22/96

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