Sexual Harassment in America: A Documentary History

By Laura W. Stein | Go to book overview

Part III
Sexual Harassment in the Military

We rely on the men and women of the Armed Forces to defend our rights. It is therefore particularly troubling when members of the military engage in sexual harassment.

When a civilian who is employed by the military suffers sexual harassment in the workplace, he or she may bring a lawsuit under Title VII, just like any other federal employee. Courts have held, however, that uniformed members of the armed services have no right to bring such civil suits. Thus, such service members must turn to internal military regulations and to the Uniform Code of Military Justice for redress of sexual harassment.

As is discussed more fully below, in 1989, the Department of Defense issued regulations defining and prohibiting sexual harassment and calling upon each branch of the service to promulgate internal policies to redress the problem. Unlike Title VII, however, these internal policies do not permit victims of sexual harassment to receive money damages. Instead, they provide mechanisms by which victims can complain of sexual harassment, direct superior officers to take complaints of sexual harassment seriously, and provide for potential criminal penalties and dishonorable discharge, under the military system of justice, for those who violate the policies.

Unfortunately, despite these policies, sexual harassment has been widespread within the military. The incident that received the most attention from the public is the Tailhook scandal, in which a group of naval aviators assaulted and groped women during their annual convention in Las Vegas in 1991. Not only was the public shocked by the behavior of these servicemen, but there was a concern that, rather than

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