According to a new report, the United States military fired or disciplined nearly 500 service members for sexual harassment in a 12-month period. In that fiscal year, the report says, there were 1,366 reports of sexual harassment, 13 percent of which involved repeat offenders.
The Dept. of Defense released the report yesterday; it's the department's first-ever formal look at the issue, which it defines as "an unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that can affect a career, job performance or create an abuse workplace." Unsurprisingly, in a majority of the cases the victim was a "young, lower-ranking woman" and the offender a "senior enlisted male service member, often in the same unit."
Obviously, underreporting is a huge issue when it comes to sexual assault and harassment (especially since the victim's commanders — you know, the guys doing the majority of the harassing — are still involved prosecution of these cases). In comparison: the department recently reported 5,061 cases of sexual assault in the past fiscal year, a 50-percent increase from the year before. Which means it's likely that harassment is much more widespread than these figures would indicate, but military personnel are reluctant to come forward.
DOD officials say they want "an environment where everybody reports when they're offended," noting the link between sexual harassment and sexual assault — according to the report, nearly 30 percent of women and 19 percent of men who reported being sexually assaulted said their attackers had also sexually harassed them. Says one official, "We aren't leaving any options off the table to prevent sexual harassment." Their expected methods of combating this ubiquitous problem include improving oversight and training and putting stronger mechanisms in place for managing sexual harassment incidents. Baby steps are better than nothing, I guess.
Meanwhile, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has announced that she plans to keep pressuring President Obama to support her military sexual assault bill, which would remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command.
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