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Sexual Harassment Declining, Remains Major Concern

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 11, 1996 – How big a problem is sexual harassment? Who does it? Where? When? And what can be done to stop it? These are questions DoD officials set out to answer with a 1995 survey sent to 90,000 active duty service members -- 65,000 women and 25,000 men.

About 34,600 women and 12,600 men responded; of those, 55 percent of the women and 14 percent of the men said they'd experienced unwanted or uninvited sexual behavior within the last year. This represents a 9 percent drop from a 1988 DoD survey, when 64 percent of women said they'd experienced harassment. It was a 3 percent drop for men.

"That's a noteworthy decline, especially in light of the fact that public sensitivity to sexual harassment has grown since 1988," said Edwin Dorn, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. Dorn announced preliminary survey findings at a Pentagon news briefing July 2 and said other results, including service-specific data, would be announced later.

Although the 1995 survey shows sexual harassment in decline, Dorn said, it remains a major concern within DoD. He said the department's senior leadership remains determined to eradicate all such behavior.

"One person who experiences sexual harassment is too many," Dorn said. "Sexual harassment affects people's performance, good order and discipline."

Sexual harassment is a workplace problem in the military, according to the survey. About 88 percent of the women and 76 percent of the men who said they experienced sexual harassment said it occurred on base; 74 percent of the women and 68 percent of the men said it occurred at work; and 77 percent of the women and 68 percent of the men said it occurred during duty hours.

Military coworkers of equal rank were the perpetrators for 44 percent of the women and 52 percent of the men. People of higher rank or grade were the perpetrators for 43 percent of the women and 21 percent of the men.

Sexual harassment is occurring where commanders and NCOs can be most effective and where they have an obligation to be most attentive, Dorn said. Leaders throughout the chain of command need to recognize sexual harassment is happening, he said. "It may be occurring in your organization, on your watch, and some believe it isn't being taken seriously enough."

Dorn said he is encouraged by the overall decline and by people's response to inappropriate sexual behavior.

"People know the rules," he said. "They understand how to report these unwanted incidents and most aren't reluctant to report [them]. There's confidence that their leaders will deal with it."

About 40 percent of the women and 17 percent of the men reported uninvited sexual behavior to their chain of command, a marked increase from a 1988 reporting rate of 8 percent for women and 10 percent for men. Most women who failed to report incidents said they preferred to handle matters themselves. More than 50 percent of the men and 35 percent of the women said they did not think the incident was important enough to report.

Although most respondents felt reporting the behavior would not affect their careers, 17 percent of the women and 8 percent of the men said they feared consequences if they complained. Almost 90 percent of both sexes said they knew how to report sexual harassment.

Fifty percent of the women and 22 percent of the men who reported sexual harassment said the offender was talked to; 20 percent of the women and 10 percent of the men said the person was counseled. Fifteen percent of the women and 39 percent of the men, however, said no action was taken, and about 23 percent of the women and 16 percent of the men said their complaints were not taken seriously.

More than 60 percent of the respondents said military leaders were making honest and reasonable efforts to stop sexual harassment, Dorn said. More than 80 percent reported receiving sexual harassment awareness training, and of those 60 percent deemed the training "moderately to highly effective," he said.

Training needs to be a continuous process, according to Dorn. "We are dealing with 1.5 million people on active duty," he said. "About 200,000 of whom enter the force anew every year. They come from environments where they may not have been exposed to racially or sexually enlightened thinking."

Dorn said he expects to see further decline as women move into positions of senior leadership.

"One of the reasons there's a tendency toward sexual harassment is that we historically have put women in what are called subsidiary or secondary jobs," he said. "As women begin to occupy more of the warfighting roles, leadership roles, we'll see a salutary effect on sexual harassment, just as we saw in the case of racial integration of the force as African Americans began to ascend to senior leadership ranks. We saw an improvement in behavior, and perhaps, an improvement in attitude."

About 195,000 active duty women now make up 13 percent of the armed forces. Ninety percent of all military career fields are open to women and 80 percent of all jobs can be filled by either sex, Dorn said.

"Because we are relying more and more on women for our military needs, we need to work harder and harder to ensure they can serve without experiencing any kind of gender-based discrimination or harassment," he said.

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