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Survey Shows Decline in Sexual Harassment
Findings of the DoD 1995 Sexual Harassment Survey by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, No location specified, Tuesday, July 02, 1996

Defense Issues: Volume 11, Number 61-- Survey Shows Decline in Sexual Harassment A recent DoD survey shows an apparent decline in the number of people who've been victims of sexual harassment and an increase in satisfaction the services are making an honest effort to combat the problem.

 

Volume 11, Number 61

Survey Shows Decline in Sexual Harassment

Findings of the DoD 1995 Sexual Harassment Survey by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, released July 2, 1996.

In March 1994, the deputy secretary of defense asked the secretary of the Air Force and the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness to develop a sexual harassment policy action plan.

This plan was provided in April 1994 and included among its elements the establishment of a Defense Equal Opportunity Council Task Force on Discrimination and Sexual Harassment to review the military services' discrimination complaints systems and recommend improvements, including the adoption of departmentwide standards and the conduct of a departmentwide sexual harassment survey because one had not been fielded since 1988.

Three surveys were used in the study. The first survey (Form A) replicated a 1988 DoD-wide survey that produced the first baseline data on sexual harassment in the active duty services. The sole purpose of administering the Form A survey was to permit comparisons of sexual harassment incident rates in the 1988 and 1995 time frames.

The second survey (Form B) differed from the first in three major ways. It provided an expanded list of potential harassment behaviors that survey respondents could report; an opportunity, for the first time, to report on experiences that occurred outside normal duty hours, not at work, and off the base or installation; and measures of service members' perceptions of the complaint process and training. The main purposes of the second survey were to assess:

 

  • What elements of the active duty military population had unwanted experiences which they believed were gender-related;
  • the context, location, and circumstances under which such experiences occurred;
  • The extent to which these experiences were reported and, if reported, members' satisfaction with the complaint process and response;
  • The amount of training received by members on topics related to sexual harassment and members' assessment of the effectiveness of training received;
  • Service members' views of current policies designed to prevent, reduce or eliminate sexual harassment, of leadership commitment and of progress in reducing the incidence of sexual harassment.

The third survey (Form C) was administered to a small sample of active duty members for research purposes, to transition to using one survey in future research. No results were calculated from this survey. The three surveys were sent to over 90,000 active duty military members from Feb. 15 to Sept. 18, 1995. About 30,000 personnel received Form A and about 13,600 completed the survey, for a response rate of 46 percent. Because detailed analyses of Form B were planned, about 50,000 personnel received it and about 28,300 completed it, for a response rate of 58 percent. Form C was mailed to about 9,500 and about 5,300 completed it, for a response rate of 56 percent. No military member received more than one survey.

How much sexual harassment is occurring? How do 1995 results compare to those obtained in 1988 (Form A)?

Based on responses to Form A, survey respondents' reports of sexual harassment declined significantly since 1988. In 1988, 22 percent of active duty military personnel (64 percent of women and 17 percent of men) reported one or more incidents of sexual harassment while at work during the year prior to the survey. In 1995, 19 percent of personnel (55 percent of women and 14 percent of men) reported one or more incidents while at work in the year prior to the survey. Results for the 10 categories used on this survey are summarized below. Reports of sexual harassment incidents declined in most categories.

Why was a second survey (Form B) developed and what did we learn from it?

Form A, the replication of the 1988 survey, was fielded for the sole purpose of comparing reports of unwanted sexual attention in 1995 and 1988. Senior DoD officials believed these indicator data would be extremely important in answering the overall question, "Have we improved?"

Although Form A would allow comparisons to the 1988 baseline, senior officials also were aware the 1988 survey could be improved. First, the earlier survey did not provide any opportunity for respondents to report about certain types of behavior related to sexual harassment. Second, it limited reporting to incidents that occurred "at work." Third, it did not contain items that measured some areas of importance to policy makers, e.g., how much training was being provided, how effective was the training, what were respondents' opinions of the complaint process?

Therefore, the decision was made to field two surveys: Form A would provide comparative data; Form B would permit collection of important information that would broaden the department's understanding of sexual harassment in the active duty military services in 1995. Because the survey contained a considerably expanded list of behaviors for reporting unwanted sexual attention and because some of these were not sexual harassment per se (e.g., assault, sexist behavior items), the Form B survey was titled "Status of the Armed Forces: Gender Issues."

An extensive incident reporting list consisting of 25 items (vs. 10 used in 1988) was developed and used in Form B. After the data were collected, the 25 items were factor analyzed and reported in five broad categories: crude/offensive behavior, e.g., unwanted sexual jokes, stories, whistling, staring; sexist behavior, e.g., insulting, offensive and condescending attitudes based on the gender of the person; unwanted sexual attention, e.g., unwanted touching, fondling, asking for dates even though rebuffed; sexual coercion, e.g., classic quid pro quo instances of job benefits or losses conditioned on sexual cooperation; and sexual assault, e.g., unsuccessful attempts at and having sex without the respondent's consent and against his or her will.

As mentioned, the 1988 survey limited the reporting of incidents to those that occurred at work. The 1995 Form B considerably broadened the context in which respondents could report experiences. Survey respondents were asked to report "Experiences in the last 12 months related to your gender, including unwanted sex-related attention ... in situations involving military personnel (on or off duty; on or off base/post) and/or civilian employees and contractors employed in your workplace." ...

Administering a new survey that more than doubled the possible categories of reporting and broadened the circumstances under which harassment could be reported to include off-duty hours, off-base, etc. clearly ensured the rates would be higher on this form than the Form A/1988 survey. Based on responses to the 25 items from Form B, 43 percent of active duty military (78 percent of women and 38 percent of men) indicated they had experienced one or more of the behaviors listed in the survey during the previous 12 months.

Did service members consider the experiences they reported to be sexual harassment?

Many did not. Because numerous new items were included on the Form B survey, a question was added that asked respondents if they considered any of the behaviors they checked in the 25-item list "sexual harassment." Although 78 percent of women and 38 percent of men checked one or more items, only 52 percent of women and 9 percent of men indicated they considered the experiences they checked sexual harassment.

Since there were multiple surveys and results for this study, how do they compare?

The following table summarizes the overall survey results. In 1988, 64 percent of active duty women and 17 percent of men reported experiencing one or more instances of sexual harassment based on a 10-item list provided in the survey. In 1995, the same survey (relabeled Form A) was administered to active duty service members, and 55 percent of women and 14 percent of men reported experiencing one or more instances of sexual harassment.

In 1995, a new survey (Form B) was also fielded. It was labeled a "gender issues" survey and contained an expanded list of 25 items potentially related to sexual harassment, e.g., quid pro quo items and sexist behavior items. On this survey, 78 percent of women and 38 percent of men reported experiencing one or more incidents on the 25-item list. When the rate is calculated as those who had one or more experiences and considered at least some to be harassment, the percentages are 52 percent for women and 9 percent for men.

Based on the data collected in this study, there is evidence that sexual harassment is significantly declining in the active duty military services. Between 1988 and 1995, the percentage of women reporting incidents of sexual harassment declined 9 percentage points and the percentage of men reporting incidents declined 3 percentage points. In addition, data obtained from the second survey (Form B) have helped us to obtain a fuller understanding of the experiences and perceptions of active duty military members. The following section provides additional findings.

Who reported they had experienced sexual harassment?

Within the active duty military, junior enlisted personnel (E1-E4) reported at somewhat higher rates than senior enlisted (E5-E9) or officers. Among junior enlisted, 49 percent reported experiencing one or more instances of sexual harassment compared to 40 percent of senior enlisted and 39 percent of officers.

The analysis of Form B indicated that black men reported incidents at slightly higher rates than white men. The overall rates for black and white females were not significantly different.

Who were the sexual harassers?

The most frequently cited sources of harassment for both women and men were military co-workers (44 percent of women and 52 percent of men), other military personnel of higher rank/grade (43 of women and 21 percent of men) and other military persons (24 percent of women and 22 percent of men).

Where and when did sexual harassment occur?

Sexual harassment primarily occurred on military installations, at work and during duty hours. For example, 88 percent of women and 76 percent of men who reported they had experienced sexual harassment indicated that all or most of it occurred on a military installation.

In terms of when the reported experiences occurred, 74 percent of women and 68 percent of men reported that all or most of the experiences occurred while at work. In addition, 77 percent of women and 68 percent of men reported that all or most of the experiences occurred during duty hours. Only 5 percent of women reported none occurred on an installation, 14 percent said none occurred at work, and 9 percent said none occurred during duty hours.

Did service members report their experiences and if so, to whom?

Active duty military personnel are increasingly reporting their experiences.

Approximately 24 percent of those who indicated experiencing an incident chose to report the incident (40 percent of women and 17 percent of men). In the 1988 survey, 8 percent of women and 10 percent of men who experienced sexual harassment chose to report the incidents. Victims of sexual harassment most often report these incidents to their immediate supervisor (26 percent of women and 11 percent of men), someone else in the chain of command (21 percent of women and 8 percent of men) and the supervisor of the person bothering them (18 percent of women and 8 percent of men).

What actions did organizations take in response to members' reports?

Fifty percent of women and 22 percent of men reported that the person who bothered them was talked to about the behavior and 20 percent of women and 10 percent of men reported that the person who bothered them was counseled. However, 39 percent of men and 15 percent of women indicated no action was taken, and 23 percent of women and 16 percent of men said their complaint was discounted or not taken seriously.

Fourteen percent of women and four percent of men indicated their complaint was/is being investigated. Finally, about 10 percent of those reporting their experiences said they did not know what action was taken.

If service members did not report their experiences, why not?

Where the incident went unreported, women most commonly gave as a reason for not reporting that they took care of the problem themselves (54 percent). Men, more frequently than women, said that they did not think the matter was important (51 percent of men and 35 percent of women). Twenty percent of women and 10 percent of men said they did not think anything would be done.

In terms of negative consequences, 25 percent of women and 13 percent of men indicated they did not report because they thought it would make their work situations unpleasant. Seventeen percent of women and 8 percent of men thought they would be labeled troublemakers. Thirteen percent of women and 10 percent of men did not want to hurt the person who bothered them.

Did service members experience retaliation?

Yes, to some extent. Service members who reported they had experienced sexual harassment also were asked if they had experienced "a performance rating that was unfairly lowered." Overall, 20 percent of women and 9 percent of men who had experienced sexual harassment reported this had occurred to a small, moderate or large extent.

When asked if they felt "free to report sexual harassment without fear of bad things happening" to them, considerably fewer women than men felt they could do so to a "large extent."

Of those service members who reported their experiences, 35 percent of women and 33 percent of men were dissatisfied with the complaint process overall.

To what extent were members who reported harassment satisfied with the complaint process?

About a third were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, and a third were satisfied.

Had service members received training, and if so, what was their opinion of the effectiveness of the training?

Seventy-nine percent of women and 85 percent of men reported receiving sexual harassment training. In terms of how much training had occurred in the last 12 months, 26 percent of women and 34 percent of men reported receiving four hours or more of training.

Forty percent of women and 42 percent of men reported receiving one to four hours of training. In addition, 98 percent of women and men reported they knew what kinds of words or actions are considered sexual harassment.

When asked how effective the training was in reducing or preventing sexual harassment, 54 percent of women and 65 percent of men said "moderately to very effective," 33 percent of women and 27 of men said "slightly" and 12 percent of women and 8 percent of men said "not effective."

Did service members know how to report sexual harassment? Did they know their formal complaint channels?

Eighty-seven percent of women and 89 percent of men said they knew the process for reporting sexual harassment. Junior enlisted (E1-E4) were less likely to know how to report (83 percent), compared to senior enlisted (E5-E9) (92 percent) and officers (95 percent). In terms of publicizing of formal complaint channels at their current duty stations, 65 percent of women and 74 percent of men said such channels had been publicized. Sixty percent of junior enlisted (E1-E4) were aware of formal complaint channels at their duty stations compared to 79 percent of senior enlisted (E5-E9) and 85 percent of officers. About 55 percent of men and women reported they knew of a specific office that investigated complaints at their duty station.

Did service members think sexual harassment in the military had declined?

When those who had served in the military two to five years were asked "How often does sexual harassment occur in the military now compared with a few years ago?", 46 percent of women and 58 percent of men reported sexual harassment was occurring less often. Thirty-four percent of women and 27 percent of men reported it was occurring at about the same rate, and 12 percent of women and 7 percent of men indicated it was occurring more often.

For those who had served in the military six to 10 years, 60 percent of women and 76 percent of men reported it was occurring less often. Thirty percent of women and 18 percent of men indicated it was occurring about the same, and 10 percent of women and 5 percent of men reported it was occurring more often.

What did active duty service members think of their leadership's efforts to make honest and reasonable efforts to stop sexual harassment?

When asked their opinion about whether different leadership levels made honest and reasonable efforts to stop sexual harassment, 53 percent of women and 67 percent of men answered "yes" for senior leadership of service, 52 percent of women and 67 percent of men answered "yes" for the senior leadership of their installation/ship and 59 percent of women and 68 percent of men answered "yes" for their immediate supervisor.

Over the course of several months -- in a series of more than 20 meetings -- the DEOC task force heard briefings from representatives of the military departments, subject matter experts and several advocacy groups. The task force reviewed dozens of documents, policy papers and pertinent studies. Ultimately, the task force concluded that only complaints processing systems that ensure both unit effectiveness and fairness to individuals would enhance military readiness.

In the view of the DEOC task force, these goals would be fulfilled by complaints handling systems that uphold principles of command commitment and accountability, service distinctiveness, clarity of policy, effective training and prompt, thorough and fair complaints handling. The task force made 48 specific recommendations converging these five areas. The recommendations were approved by the deputy secretary of defense and incorporated in Department of Defense and service directives.

These survey results are encouraging. They document a decline in harassment experiences and reflect DoD and the services' increased emphasis on combating sexual harassment. It should be noted the timing of this study precluded measuring the effects of other DEOC initiatives since the surveys were fielded concurrent with those changes. No doubt, the additional DEOC task force initiatives will advance the ability of the Department of Defense to combat sexual harassment.

Regardless of improvements to date, any incidence of sexual harassment is unacceptable. In March 1994, Dr. [Secretary of Defense William J.] Perry said, "Equal opportunity is not just the right thing to do, it is a military and economic necessity." He and all senior leaders in the department are committed to implementing appropriate policies and safeguards to secure an environment in which all employees are assured of their basic right to carry out their jobs without harassment or discrimination.

 

Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/speeches/index.html.