Army admits gender bias Top leaders admit sex harassment is continuing problem

'Sexual abuse not endemic'

Reports recommend major changes in training programs

September 12, 1997|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Sexual misconduct, including rape, at an Aberdeen Proving Ground school was an "aberration" that resulted from failed leadership, Army leaders said yesterday, but they conceded that women continue to face sexual harassment and an even more stubborn problem with discrimination.

"Sexual abuse is not endemic throughout our Army," said Army Secretary Togo West at a news conference, adding that "sexual harassment exists in the Army across the ranks, across the genders, across the units."

West and Army Chief of Staff Dennis J. Reimer pledged that the Army would place "more emphasis on values" by putting in place the recommendations from two Army reports made public yesterday.

The reports from a civilian-military panel and the Army inspector general call for:

Adding a week to the current eight-week basic training program to teach ethics, "Army values" and appropriate behavior.

Assigning more women as drill instructors.

Greater training and screening of drill sergeants.

Adding officers and chaplains to oversee training and handle complaints.

The reports say that enlisted personnel throughout the service "uniformly do not have trust and confidence in their leaders" on gender-related matters.

West said the reports "are a call to the Army to be better than we are."

A three-star general will be appointed to oversee training at Army bases, including Aberdeen, where complaints by more than 50 female trainees of sexual misconduct ranging from rape to prohibited consensual sex led to the suspension of 12 instructors, some of whom were later convicted and imprisoned.

When the complaints erupted last fall at Aberdeen, other women stepped forward at training bases around the country and in Europe, saying they too had been the victims of sexual misconduct.

West said the Army will investigate alleged wrongdoings by investigators from the Army's Criminal Investigation Command (CID). Several female trainees at Aberdeen charged that CID agents tried to coerce them to claim falsely that they were raped. Black sergeants allege that they were targeted by CID. All those charged in the Aberdeen scandal were black.

West also announced disciplinary action against eight officers and noncommissioned officers who were in leadership posts at Aberdeen's U.S. Ordnance Center and School, saying "there was oversight needed that was not provided."

Those receiving letters of reprimand -- which typically end careers -- include a general, a colonel, two lieutenant colonels and a command sergeant major. Three command sergeant majors received admonitions, a less serious punishment.

No names were released due to privacy considerations. Some of those punished have since retired. Army officials who requested anonymity said that a female sergeant is among those reprimanded. They also said the list included Maj. Gen. Robert D. Shadley, who commanded the school until he was transferred in June, and Col. Robert S. Bird Jr., who commanded the school's two training battalions and retired in July.

Bird declined comment, but Shadley, now stationed at Fort McPherson, Ga., said in a statment that when the problems came to light he and other officers immediately notified the Army leadership and undertook "an exhaustive investigation" to determine the scope of the problem.

"Unfortunately, neither I nor my predecessor uncovered this problem sooner," he said. "I was commander when the problem came to light, and I accept full responsibility for the decisions I made and the actions I took while in command."

Rep. Steve Buyer, an Indiana Republican who chairs the military personnel subcommittee, cautioned against losing sight of the Army's mission of fighting the nation's wars. "I don't want the Army's total focus to be on sexual harassment," he said, but rather on "the value system" of a soldier, which transcends gender and race.

The two reports "underscore what we've been hearing from women," said Nancy Duff Campbell, co-president of the National Women's Law Center. "Harassment is the tip of the iceberg."

About 35,000 male and female soldiers were interviewed at dozens of bases around the world, by the civilian-military panel. Women account for 14 percent of the Army's 480,000-soldier force.

According to the reports:

22 percent of Army women and 12 percent of men said they were sexually harassed in the past 12 months, figures that have remained generally constant over the past five years.

72 percent of the women and 63 percent of the men had experienced "sexist behavior," and 47 percent of the women and 30 percent of the men received "unwanted sexual attention."

15 percent of the women and 8 percent of the men experienced "sexual coercion," and 7 percent of the women and 6 percent of the men experienced "sexual assault.

55 percent of female soldiers complained that they were treated differently because of their sex, ignored in meetings and passed over for assignments. Some male soldiers insisted that women are "held to a less demanding standard" than they are.

The panel reported that many trainees accept the "popular culture messages" that adultery is acceptable, which contributes to their susceptibility to sexual harassment and misconduct. Army leaders, the panel concluded, must emphasize that "prohibited conduct" can hurt the effectiveness of a military unit in addition to having personal consequences.

The Army will continue to have men and women training together, said Reimer, who stressed the service is not "going soft" by increasing human relations training. "It's about treating everyone with dignity and respect," he said.

Pub Date: 9/12/97

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