A Task Force of the U.S. Defense Department says officials have not done enough to end sexual harassment and assault among students at the university-level Army and Navy Academies. The Task Force's report, released Thursday, makes 64 recommendations for policy changes ranging from increased discipline to better reporting and confidentiality rules for victims to increasing the number of women in leadership positions at the academies.
The task force report says the biggest challenge in the effort to end sexual harassment and assault at the Army and Navy Academies is the need to change what it calls the institutions' "culture." The report says that includes excessive and misplaced loyalty among the students toward each other, at the expense of adherence to rules and regulations. The group's first recommendation is that Army cadets and Navy midshipmen themselves take more responsibility for preventing sexual harassment and assault, and indeed for preventing other misconduct such as alcohol abuse, which the Task Force says is often a factor in sexual misconduct.
The Task Force co-chair, Vice Admiral G.L. Hoewing, says it is up to the leadership at the academies to help the students deal with the issue.
"They can't do it on their own. They need to be taught and given the tools in order to be able to do that," he said. "Our cadets and midshipmen, therefore, must learn that there is no middle ground when it comes to upholding those standards. We believe that can be taught through training and education programs. And we also believe that it's a responsibility of the institutions in order to be able to provide that education and learning to do that."
Officials say the majority of incidents involve comments and jokes, and that even such verbal forms of harassment are not acceptable.
Admiral Hoewing co-led a Task Force made up of six military people and six civilians. They spent nine months researching the issue and preparing their report. Many of them will serve on a follow-up commission. The Task Force was created by Congress to look into the problems of sexual harassment and assault at the Army and Navy Academies following a scandal and investigation involving the U.S. Air Force Academy two years ago.
The Task Force says the issue is particularly important because of the growing number of women in the U.S. military.
The group concluded that all the service academies have made progress in fighting sexual harassment and assault in recent years, but that much more work needs to be done.
"Sexual harassment and violence are anathema to honorable service to our nation," said Under-Secretary of Defense David Chu. "Sexual misconduct of any sort is absolutely contrary to the values of our society, and of our armed forces."
Among its many recommendations for improvements at the Army and Navy Academies, the Task Force calls for improved training on the value of women in the military services and the need for officers to respect all people they encounter, an increase in the number of women in leadership positions at the academies, improved residential facilities to provide more privacy for both male and female students and enhanced supervision of the students by senior non-commissioned officers who work at the academies. The Task Force also calls on the U.S. Congress to strengthen laws against sexual misconduct in the military and to guarantee confidentiality for victims who report sexual crimes.