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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Apparently, May was Harass Your Female Subordinates Month in the U.S. military. I didn’t get the press release, but a number of news items brought me up to speed.

A sergeant at West Point is being investigated for secretly videotaping at least a dozen female cadets at West Point while they showered or were in the bathroom undressing. The Army didn’t announce the investigation; it was leaked to the New York Times.

That revelation came a week after we learned that Sgt. 1st Class Gregory McQueen, stationed at Fort Hood in Texas, is being investigated for running a prostitution ring. His day job is sexual abuse educator at the base. No kidding. His side line in pimping was exposed when he sexually assaulted a private who refused to join his enterprise.

Then, of course, there was the colonel who heads the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office who was arrested for grabbing a woman’s breasts and buttocks in a parking lot.

Gentlemen, we have a problem.

These are not isolated incidents. And despite their obvious appeal to late-night comedy writers, each and every one of these episodes is a story of abuse and intimidation and suffering. Worse, this kind of behavior in the armed forces goes largely unreported and unpunished.

The Pentagon found that unreported sexual assaults within the branches of the U.S. military increased to 26,000 in 2012, up from 19,000 such cases in the previous year. Reported sexual assaults rose to 3,374 from 3,192.

The U.S. military has proved to be a sexually hostile environment for women — and for a fair number of men as well. By the Pentagon’s own measures, women are more likely to become victims of sexual assault while in the military than in civilian life.

No one is sure of the real number of assaults, as reporting is low. The Pentagon’s figures are derived from surveys where personnel didn’t have to identify themselves and risk reprisal.

That hints at the real problem.

The wolves can’t continue guarding the chicken coop. The military has had long enough to fix its sexual discrimination problems. Nothing has significantly changed its culture. Not pushes for increased reporting of incidents, more sexual harassment training, or little nips and tucks in the chain of command.

What is needed are measures far beyond the well-intentioned efforts that trace back to the early 1990s when the Tailhook scandal broke and more than 90 victims were identified as having been forcibly disrobed, groped and subjected to a range of other offenses during a drunken Navy aviator convention.

Both the House and the Senate are mulling new ways to address the problem.

Victims must often go to their commander to report an attack. In some cases, the commander is the accused and victims are understandably reluctant to approach officials who have the power to sink their career.

A huge factor is that military law still allows for commanders to set aside decisions, or change the rulings of a court martial.

That could change in some cases of rape and serious sexual assault under legislation now being considered. Dishonorable discharge might become the rule for some convictions. The measures have bipartisan support.

At last, Congress appears outraged enough to force significant changes, far beyond being satisfied with window-dressing measures like sensitivity classes.

Through the years, whenever these embarrassments have arisen, military brass could be counted on to issue stalwart-sounding resolutions to change the culture of our armed forces. And we are hearing them again.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called for all the services to “retrain, recredential and rescreen all sexual assault prevention and response personnel and military recruiters.” And Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno had this to say: “It is time we take on the fight against sexual assault and sexual harassment as our primary mission. It is up to every one of us, civilian and soldier, general officer to private, to solve this problem within our ranks.”

Here’s a more direct way to put it. The U.S. military is not the man’s world it once was. Women make up significant portions of the military. West Point has been open to women for nearly 40 years. They are about 15 percent of the 4,400 cadets.

This year, the military agreed to allow women to apply for ground combat positions for the first time. Women are 25 percent of those in basic training. And 147 died so far in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They are soldiers, not sexual playthings. Anybody who doesn’t get that should have no place in our armed forces.

(Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via email at

AP Photo/Mike Groll

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8 responses to “When Will Military Get Serious About Reforming Its Culture Of Sexual Hostility?”

  1. Sand_Cat says:

    In answer to the question posed by the title: when someone starts firing lots and lots of them, and threatens to cut their budgets.

  2. Germansmith says:

    Sexual assault is appalling BUT, is never going to be totally eliminated as long as young women and young men serve together in hostile places with little else to do (yes, the military academy as well)

    We must fortified the legal and reporting process that would allow all victims (both men and women) to report those situations and prosecute the guilty, BUT we also must remember that the primary objective of our military is to defend and protect the interests of the United States and not to provide career opportunities to people that are clearly unable to make a transition between civilian and military life.
    I have served and worked with women and develop great friendships with them…but these women were not delicate flowers and earned everyone respect.
    In any large macho organization (and the military is clearly one) any sign of weakness makes you a target for harassment or assault. Is it right? NO, but that is the way it is.
    For centuries soldiers have been beat up, raped, maimed and killed (either by the enemy or by friendly fire) and there was little fuzz about it because there were only men or “boys being boys”. Now, we have women, so we have to clean up our act, be polite, be gentle and do not make any insensitive comment that could be construed to be sexual harassment….well there goes the neighborhood.

    • IslandTyger says:

      Damn. One conservative rags on me for being (god forbid) an aggressive woman, and the other blames female victims who aren’t aggressive enough? Welcome to the 21st Century.

      • Germansmith says:

        I am not a truly conservative and I like assertive, capable and confident women.
        Aggressive behavior is a negative for both men and women. A woman can be admired and respected without the need for her to become a bitch. A man can be admired and respected without the need for him to become a prick.

  3. Mark Forsyth says:

    Frankly I’m surprised that someone who is such a stalwart defender of American conservative principals,and so quickly incensed by what he percieves as egregious behavior is curiously mum on this subject.I guess he would rather be in Syria,arranging to give arms and certainly money best used in the USA,to questionable groups who might possibly be those who we will need to fight in the future.

  4. demhack says:

    When??? This all started when Don’t ask don’t tell was put in place and morality was thrown out the window. If barak and his dem minions want full debauchery its time to end separate bath rooms sleeping quarters gyms etc. Everything needs to be co ed

    • ralphkr says:

      Bull, demhack, this was going on in WW1 according to my father & neighbors who served then and was going on during WW2 according to my uncles who served in Europe and Asia and was going on during the Korean era according to some of my uncles who were career officers and we all knew about the homosexuals in the service when I was serving in the 1950s. The difference being that if you were sexually assaulted by a homosexual if you were male or by a man if you were female you never reported it because the victim was judged more harshly than the criminal and the best you could hope for was a general discharge in lieu of time in the stockade for “inviting” the attack.

  5. Allan Richardson says:

    The essence of military operations from the dawn of history is to impose the will of a soldier’s country on unwilling people by force. Except for approximately the last century, and civilized democracies such as ours, that has been understood by the rank and file soldier to include “permission” to steal, kill, and rape noncombatant civilians. Indeed, in most armies and wars in history, those were part of the “pay” for soldiers.

    Our country, and our allies such as the United Kingdom and the civilized democracies, have grown and evolved beyond these attitudes, at least at the highest levels of command. However, this has apparently not “trickled down” to the minds of ALL of the individual soldiers; a few still feel that sexual favors are an entitlement (they probably felt that way as civilians as well). Because of the “good old boy” culture that has prevailed up until now (the military culture encouraged smoking and drinking to excess longer than other parts of our society), the women who have joined it have often been considered “recreational accessories” for the men, rather than serious soldiers.

    It will be a long slog to eradicate this cultural attitude, starting from the top down.

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