Women Still Marching into Military Widening Charges of Sexual Harassment at US Bases Have Not Deterred New Recruits
Warren Richey, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Last Thursday, as part of her job as a US Army recruiter, Sgt. Rana Williams traveled to Pope High School in Marietta, Ga., where she delivered a sales pitch to 60 teenagers.
Her visit came as news reports across the country focused on allegations of rape and sexual abuse of female recruits in the Army.
Yet during her hour-long presentation, not a single student asked the sergeant about sexual harassment in the military. "They just wanted to know why women can't fight in combat or fly fighter jets," Sergeant Williams says. Of the 60 students, three women and one young man are interested in signing up. Not a bad day's work for a recruiter. Recruiters elsewhere say they are seeing the same thing. As a result, they don't expect the widening scandal at bases nationwide to greatly affect the record numbers of women who have been entering military service in recent years. It isn't that prospective recruits aren't concerned about sexual harassment, experts say. But the military is not much different from the rest of society, where sexual harassment remains a significant problem. Women figure it is no different than in the civilian world, says Georgia Sadler of the Women's Research and Education Institute (WREI) in Washington. In many respects it may even be better. The Department of Defense is now the world's largest employer of women. There are 195,000 women currently on active duty, roughly 13 percent of America's soldiers. Twenty years ago, women made up only 2 percent of the armed forces. (In addition, the department employs more than 370,000 civilian women employees.) Opportunities for women soldiers are expanding. Although they are barred from serving in direct combat positions, more than 90 percent of all jobs in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines are now open to women. There are 186 American women pilots flying combat aircraft, and 141 others are in training. The Air Force has four women in the astronaut program and the Navy has one. Among the nation's highest ranking women are six Air Force generals, five Navy admirals, five Army generals, and one Marine Corps general. The secretary of the Air Force is a woman. Given the Defense Department's desire to open the armed services to women, the current scandal at the Army Ordnance Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Md. - like the Navy's Tailhook scandal - is an embarrassment to the US military. So far, a captain and two sergeants at Aberdeen have been charged with crimes ranging from rape to illegal fraternization with subordinates. Two other sergeants received noncriminal sanctions. The case has aimed a spotlight on the issue of sexual harassment in the military. A toll-free hotline established to investigate the Aberdeen case has yielded calls from women on military bases across the country. Investigators are working on more than 500 new cases as a result of calls made within the past two weeks. The Pentagon is now facing the prospect that sexual harassment will be in the headlines for months to come with charges filed on one base after another. …