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Armed Services

Sexual Harassment In The Armed Services

The inclusion of women in virtually all aspects of military life has changed the service from a male-dominated enterprise, strictly segregated by gender, into a microcosm of modern society. Although most men and women serve side by side without incident, charges of SEXUAL HARASSMENT in the military became increasingly numerous in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Perhaps the most explosive and far-reaching incidence of this problem took place at the Tail-hook Association convention in Las Vegas in September 1991. The Tailhook Association—named for the hook on a Navy jet that catches on the cables that stop it as it lands on an aircraft carrier—is a private group of active and retired Navy and Marine Corps pilots. After its 1991 meeting, Navy lieutenant Paula A. Coughlin charged that she and other women who unwittingly stumbled upon the Tailhook hospitality suites at the Las Vegas Hilton were forced to go through a "gauntlet" of drunken Navy and Marine officers who assaulted them, tore at their clothing, and grabbed at their bodies as they were propelled down the hallway. Coughlin's allegations launched an investigation that revealed drunken, lewd, and out-of-control behavior by the officers. In the ensuing months, the Navy severed its ties to the Tailhook Association and submitted the names of more than 60 officers for possible disciplinary action. Nevertheless, a conspiracy of silence among the aviators hampered the investigation. In September 1992, the Pentagon's inspector general issued a report criticizing the Navy's inquiry into the incident and suggesting that top Navy officials deliberately undermined the investigation to avoid negative publicity. The commander of the Naval Investigative Service and the Navy's judge advocate general were relieved of their commands. The following April, the inspector general accused 140 aviators of indecent exposure, assault, and lying under oath in the incident. However, no one was ever court-martialed as a result of the charges, and those who were disciplined received only small fines or reprimands.

The Tailhook scandal set off a tidal wave within the upper echelons of the Navy. Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III resigned in June 1992, accepting full responsibility for the failure of leadership that allowed the incident to occur. In October 1993, his replacement, John H. Dalton, asked for the removal of Admiral Frank B. Kelso II, chief of naval operations, who was present at the convention but denied any knowledge of the debauchery. Dalton's request was overruled by Secretary of Defense Les Aspin. In February 1994, a military judge cited Kelso for using "unlawful command influence" to "manipulate the initial investigative process" and the Navy's disciplinary procedures "to shield his personal involvement" in Tailhook. Kelso, who was to retire on June 30, 1994, angrily denied any wrongdoing and declared that he would not resign early. In the end, however, he was persuaded to step down two months ahead of schedule in exchange for a tribute from Defense Secretary William J. Perry that would clear his name. After a bitter debate, the U.S. Senate voted 54 to 43 to allow Kelso, the Navy's top admiral and a 38-year veteran, to retire at his full four-star rank and with a full PENSION. The women in the Senate, along with many of their male colleagues, vehemently opposed the arrangement, but they were ultimately overruled.

Coughlin resigned from the Navy in February 1994, stating that the assault and "the covert attacks on me that followed have stripped me of my ability to serve." Coughlin was successful in a civil suit against the Tailhook Association, with whom she settled for an undisclosed amount. She also won a civil suit against the Hilton Hotels Corporation, parent company of the Las Vegas Hilton, which she accused of lax security; in October 1994, a jury awarded her $1.7 million in COMPENSATORY DAMAGES and an additional $5 million in PUNITIVE DAMAGES. Still suffering depression and post-traumatic stress from the incident, Coughlin expressed satisfaction with the award but uncertainty about her future, saying, "I'm hoping to slip into obscurity. I want to paint my house. I just want to go home."

Anxious to restore the Navy's tarnished image after the sordid series of events, top officials vowed to handle sexual harassment charges swiftly and sensitively. The Navy's new "zero-tolerance" policy on sexual harassment required automatic dismissal for aggravated sexual harassment or repeat offenses. Under the policy, about 90 officers and sailors had been dismissed by the end of 1994.

In spite of the publicity generated by Tailhook and other scandals, and the efforts of the military to clamp down on sexual harassment, charges continued to come to light. In one 1994 case that tested the resolve of Admiral Jeremy M. Boorda, Admiral Kelso's successor as chief of naval operations, two officers were reprimanded for failing to act properly on complaints by Lieutenant Darlene Simmons. Simmons charged that her commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Arthur Catullo, had offered to advance her career in exchange for sexual favors. Catullo was censured. Simmons, who had an impeccable record before she brought the charges but received an "adverse" evaluation afterward, received an apology from Navy Secretary Dalton. Dalton also cleared her record and offered to extend her active-duty Navy service by two years.

Another egregious incident, again involving the Navy, occurred in 1994 when four male instructors were court-martialed and six others punished for sexually harassing 16 women students at the Naval Training Center in San Diego. The women, who were learning to operate the Navy's computer and telephone networks, claimed that the male instructors made unwanted verbal and physical advances. After a seven-month investigation, the Navy found all but one of the instructors guilty of the charges and imposed various sanctions, from a criminal conviction and $1,000 fine, to a loss in pay, required counseling, and inclusion of punitive letters in their files.

Sexual harassment was also found among the ranks at the U.S. Military Academy, at West Point, New York. In October 1994, female cadets complained that they had been groped at a pep rally by members of the West Point football team as the players ran past them in a regimental "spirit run." Lieutenant General Howard D. Graves, superintendent of West Point, launched an immediate investigation that resulted in three players being suspended from the team for the rest of the season, restricted to academy grounds for 90 days, and given 80 hours of marching discipline. Representative Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, criticized the punishment as too lenient, saying, "[I]t looks like [the incident] was treated as a prank and not as a serious violation of the code of conduct."

Sexual misconduct by servicemen is not limited to sexual harassment. The Army acknowledged in 1992 that soldiers committed at least 34 sex crimes during the Gulf War in 1991, including rape and assault against fellow U.S. soldiers. One sergeant was charged with rape, indecent assault, and ADULTERY after he allegedly raped several female soldiers in the port of Al Jubayl in Saudi Arabia in 1991. Some of the crimes reported by the Army at that time included consensual sexual activities, including adultery and homosexual conduct. Army records disclosed few records regarding actions taken against the soldiers for their misconduct.

Four years later, three U.S. soldiers, two marines, and a sailor stationed near Japan, abducted and raped a 12-year-old Okinawa schoolgirl, in part prompting Okinawa citizens to call for the closing of U.S. military bases on the island. The incident likewise enraged citizens of Japan. According to a study of records in 1988, Navy and Marine bases in Japan held 169 courts martial for sexual assaults, far exceeding the number at any U.S. base elsewhere in the world. Statistics regarding Air Force courts martial likewise showed a significant number of assault charges on bases in Japan.

Prior to 2000, many criminal activities by military employees went unpunished because the host country in which the crime occurred failed to prosecute the action or the military courts of the United States did not have jurisdiction to try the case. In 2000, Congress enacted the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106-523, 114 Stat. 2488 (18U.S.C.A. §§ 3261-3267), which extends federal criminal jurisdiction over crimes committed by military personnel and their dependents stationed abroad. The statute allows the U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT to order the arrest, detention, and removal of military employees for crimes that would constitute an offense punishable for more than one year if the conduct had been engaged in within the jurisdiction of the United States.

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