Defenders of harm

September 13, 2005

APOLOGISTS for the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point say the schools and their respective branches of the armed forces are doing all they can to stop sexual harassment in the ranks. Try again.

Sure, mids, plebes and others now have to take classes to learn what are illegal acts and what's just plain wrong behavior toward their colleagues. But according to the latest in a decades-long string of reports, it still hasn't taken hold.

More than half the women surveyed (and 11 percent of men surveyed) at the two schools and at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., said they had been sexually harassed at school last year, according to a report released late last month by the Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies. Thirty years after the first women entered military academies the climate hasn't improved as much as it should have.

Sexual offenders over the past decade have not been "consistently or effectively held accountable through the criminal justice system," according to the report. It recounts offensive jokes and tales of sexual exploits denigrating women and consistent, unwanted propositions for dates and sex and offers to trade academic favors (good grades) for sex. That last one points to the real problem: Not just a few wayward mids, but a culture that condones abusing women.

The number of female cadets and mids - and especially officers - may not have reached the "tipping point" that would naturally force a change in attitude; we agree with the task force's recommendations that the academies seek out more women to study and to teach at the institutions. But in the meantime, 17 percent of officers in training are women. It's just plain foolish to treat them as unworthy of respect now, and then demand they command the respect of their companies later. The Pentagon and the academies must do better, faster.

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