HARASSMENT IN THE MILITARY
FEBRUARY 4, 1997
The Senate Armed Services Committee heard testimony today from all three branches of the military. The issue was sexual harassment. Army secretary Togo West described how the military is dealing with charges of sexual misconduct at the Aberdeen, MD training base. Seven instructors there are facing charges ranging from harassment to rape. Senators Snowe (R-ME) and Robb (D-VA) discuss whether the military is doing what it can to protect the women who protect our country.
MARGARET WARNER: Now two views on all this from two members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine and Democratic Senator and former Marine Officer Charles Robb of Virginia. Welcome both of you. Sen. Robb, after today's hearing, how confident are you that the army and the other services are doing what they need to do to end sexual harassment in the military and sexual abuse?
A RealAudio version of the Armed Services Committee hearings is available.
A RealAudio version of the NewsHour discussion of these hearings is also available.
Betty Ann Bowser reports on the ongoing investigation and talks to a group of female soldiers.
Army Secretary, Togo West, discusses the investigations of three U.S. Army officers accused of raping or sexually harassing female recruits in Aberdeen, Md.
A NewsHour discussion of Women in the Military.
U.S. Airforce Web site on Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policies
SEN. CHARLES ROBB, (D) Virginia: Well, I think at this point they're clearly addressing it. It's on everybody's radar screen. Consciences have been raised. There are investigations certainly with respect to the incidents at Aberdeen that has disturbed everyone. It's my understanding that the army has or are in the process of interviewing every female recruit for the last two years who went through that process. They've had a hotline. They had top-down and bottom-up investigations going on. Whether that's enough to disclose all of the instances that have actually taken place, I don't know, but at the very least, it's much higher up on the agenda than it was.
Ironically, there were some statistics that were presented this morning that indicated that the perception was that this problem was beginning to lessen slightly, but if this is--if the facts that were revealed today are accurate, we have a very serious problem, and certainly any young woman thinking about going into the armed services today would have a reason to think twice, and we don't want that to happen. If we have an armed services where the individual members can't have the confidence that they need to have in each other, and they're going to be subjected to this kind of sexual harassment or discrimination or whatever it may be, then we've got a much more serious problem than just this one single series of incidents that have been revealed at Aberdeen.
MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Snowe, what's your assessment, what's your judgment on how well the military has responded since these latest allegations came out in November about Aberdeen?
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE, (R) Maine: Well, they have certainly demonstrated commitment to address the problems that occurred as a result of the Aberdeen incidents, but I'm still, nevertheless, concerned about the extent to which it will be ultimately addressed. To think back historically since 1981, Secretary Weinberger issued statements with Secretary Cheney and Secretary Perry, and, of course, Secretary Cohen recently said in his confirmation hearings there would be zero tolerance, but clearly nothing has really been done over the years to address the systemic problems that have pervaded the culture of the armed forces.
The situation at Aberdeen is quite serious. It is pervasive, as I said at the hearing today. And when you consider the fact that you have 50 percent of the drill instructors at Aberdeen under suspension, under question at this point, there may be more. In addition, we have the hotline that was issued after these Aberdeen incidents were revealed, 7,000 calls of which 1,000 are being investigated for criminal conduct. So, as we can see, these are very serious issues, and I am still concerned as to whether or not we will see the kind of structural changes. We've had task forces. We've had surveys. We have had recommendations. In fact, the Department of Defense issued recommendations as a result of the task force on sexual discrimination and harassment back in 1995, 48 recommendations. But I question the extent to which they will be implemented that will resolve these issues unquestionably so that women feel comfortable joining the armed forces and remaining in the armed forces.
MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Robb, why do you think it's been so hard for the military to get a handle on this problem? Because, of course, as Sen. Snowe points out, I mean, this has been--even the attention has been going on now for many years.
SEN. CHARLES ROBB: Well, it's one of those situations where it may be that we were lulled into a sense of complacency, thinking that progress was being made, and we've just been rudely awakened to the fact that we're not making the progress that we thought we were making. Traditionally, the military has been ahead of the curve in most of the areas that involve solving some of society's most difficult problems. Obviously, sexual harassment is a problem in society at large. It's certainly be revealed as a serious problem in the military. All of us who have any responsibility for oversight will be keeping an eye on it to see what kind of progress is made.
One of the ways that you can test this certainly is not only meeting with commanders and others at the top level but simply asking individuals who have had direct access. I do think on the basis of some of the things that have been revealed so far that there is increasing confidence in the ability of women who may believe that they have been subjected to any kind of sexual harassment or other forms of discrimination to report those instances. That is a start, and there's a least growing confidence that there's a system that will respond, but the thing that is most troubling to me, frankly, is the fact that there are reports that not only the sexual harassment took place, but that someone in the chain of command failed to act on it seriously or take it up with the proper authorities. If that's the case, we have a very serious problem, and obviously, the additional allegations about the sergeant major of the army are extremely troubling.
MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Snowe, why do you think sexual harassment and sexual abuse--you used the word "pervasive" in talking about the military--why do you think it is such a problem in the military?
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: Well, I think that's obviously the issue that we're trying to determine as to what is contributing to this culture and to the problems that exist. I think that even the army is stunned to the extent to which not only the number of incidents but the kinds of incidents because it isn't just sexual harassment; it is sexual abuse and misconduct. It's rape. It's sodomy. It's assault. These are very serious charges. We have to look at the training programs. I think also too another interesting factor is the extent to which women are in all the positions within the military, and that's an interesting issue, because as you see an army and the Marines, you see more women excluded from positions than you do in the Navy and the Air Force, where there's less sexual discrimination. So I think that women should have the opportunity to enter higher and higher positions within the military. I would like to know the percentage of women who now serve in the chain of command. I think it's important to have women in the higher echelons in making the decisions. And that's why I raised the question at Sec. Cohen's confirmation hearing with respect to the national defense panel because I want to make sure that when they're doing their independent review of the quadrennial defense review, that women will be serving on that panel, and they're making the most important decisions concerning the future of our national defense and our force structure and our strategy.
MARGARET WARNER: And just briefly, because I want to get back to Sen. Robb, are you saying--when you say that women need to be considered for more positions, are you including combat rules?
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: To some extent. I think women should have those choices. I recognize in some areas like hand-to-hand combat and so on, that there are some problems that have to be worked out, but I think that there certainly should be more choices, and more of the services are opening up their ears to women. I think it is important if you look at the Air Force. I know they have fewer combat rules, but nevertheless, they have much reduced sexual harassment incidents than compared to the other services. And I think that that's an interesting correlation.
MARGARET WARNER: Yes. Sen. Robb, what about that correlation, that is, the polls taken of women in the military show much higher rates of complaint about this in those branches in which they are kept out of most of these warrior jobs, for lack of a better term, the army and the Marines?
SEN. CHARLES ROBB: Again, at this point, you're talking about the difference between the kinds of combat that the individual service members might be subjected to if we actually go to war. And there are some very important questions that have not been raised. I have been a very longstanding advocate of many of the things that Olympia Snowe was just referring to. As the father of three daughters, I want them to have every possible opportunity that any male would have in this world. But if we're not going to put them into actual ground combat in the infantry, perhaps in the artillery, armor, what have you, then it may make sense to take a look at whether or not we ought to train them in the same way. The Marine Corps, for instance, right now does not have the so-called gender integrated training. The Army does. At this point, and the evidence is not yet conclusive, it would appear to me that there may be some legitimate reasons for not putting people particularly in that very vulnerable stage in exactly the same type of training at exactly the same time.
The overall question of what rules women can or ought to fulfill in our armed forces is still a difficult one for the military and for most of us who have served in the military. I think it's fair to say that everyone accepts the fact that we want to make every possible role available to women and that we don't want to do anything that either directly or indirectly inhibits women from realizing their full potential. The so-called "glass ceiling" is serious, and we ought to be very much concerned about it. But if we're not going to make the ultimate decision to put women in the front lines in so-called "hand-to-hand" combat, then maybe we ought to take a look at whether or not we ought to train them for those same types of activities.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And, Sen. Snowe, before we go, just on that question of separating the training. Would you advocate that?
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: No. I certainly wouldn't. I think that that's begging the question. It's almost as if it's placing the onus on women and limiting their opportunities. And I think the more that we integrate the services to the extent possible, I think we certainly should do it. I think frankly the fewer positions that women are in the military are making it all the more difficult for women to be fully integrated in the service, and I think that's what this is all about.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you both very much.