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Cohen Targets Sexual Harassment

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 1997 – DoD will not tolerate sexual harassment in the military and will hold accountable people throughout the chain of command, said William S. Cohen in discussing challenges he faces as the new secretary of defense.

"We want every incident reported, investigated and prosecuted to the extent that there is any validity to the allegations," he said in a Jan. 23 Pentagon interview .

Sexual harassment is endemic throughout society, Cohen said, but it's not tolerable in the military, where maintaining unit cohesion and high morale is a must.

"We're talking about men and women putting their lives on the line at some point," he said. "We can't have that kind of dissension, that kind of discrimination or morale problem within the unit."

Cohen said he intends to send a strong message of zero tolerance for sexual harassment. "We are going to make it very clear from the very top officials to the lowest in the chain of command this is not acceptable conduct," he said.

Sexual harassment tends to take place in the workplace during work hours, Cohen said. He called on military leaders to be aware of what goes on in their commands.

"I can't imagine a situation in which a person in charge of a unit, however small or large, isn't aware of what is going on," he said. "If there are deficiencies, they should correct those deficiencies. If there are acts of omission or commission, I want them accountable.

"Once people know we're serious about it and people are going to be held accountable for it, then you can alter people's behavior," Cohen said. "We did that with respect to drugs. We can do it in this case as well."

Greater emphasis on training and instruction can reduce, if not eliminate, incidents, he said. "There may always be incidents, but our goal is to eliminate them to the extent we possibly can."

Military officials intensified efforts to combat sexual harassment after the Navy was rocked by charges following a Tailhook convention in 1991. Recent charges that drill instructors sexually harassed and assaulted trainees at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.; Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; and Fort Sam Houston, Texas, triggered hundreds of reports from throughout the military.

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