While serving as the Commanding General of the U. S. Army Ordnance Center and Schools at Aberdeen Proving Ground some two decades ago, I uncovered what was basically a crime ring. Drill sergeants were having a contest to see who could have sex with the most students in our advanced individual training classes. It became readily apparent by reading reports that this abuse of power was occurring not only at Aberdeen but also at other Army installations and within other Services.
When all the studies by the Department of the Army were completed and formally announced in September 1997, the Pentagon’s emphasis for correcting the problem of sexual assaults was to allege that Aberdeen was an aberration and that sexual assaults were only a problem within one school’s command. They insisted that the problem that needed to be addressed Army-wide was sexual harassment.
If one were to look at sexual assault as the cancer, then sexual harassment is the precursor. Attacking the issue of sexual harassment is vital to ensuring all civilians, military and family members are not subjected to objectionable language and conduct and are able to feel comfortable in the workplace and living areas. The cancer is still sexual assault and it continues to this day in our military.
I have had the privilege and honor over the past two years to address hundreds of Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, Victims Advocates, Special Victims Counsels, and leaders who are working hard to eradicate the cancer of sexual assaults. I have also talked with survivors, commanders, family members, law enforcement officials, and medical personnel. I have learned from them that the cancer lives on, DOD-wide.
As I go about discussing this issue in the private sector to include colleges, religious groups, civic organizations, and service organizations, I emphasize that it is only 1-2% of the military that are perpetrators of sexual assaults. But this 1-2% cause irreparable damage to survivors while concurrently damaging the reputation of the greatest military ever.
My specific recommendations with regard to eradicating this cancer have remained consistent over the past few years. I know the women appointed to positions to work on this issue are working hard, and I mean no disrespect by the following comment: As long as the military keeps putting women in charge of the prevention of sexual harassment/sexual assault, these problems will be seen as women’s issues and not military issues. Prevention of sexual assault is not a personnel or human relations issue; it’s a force protection issue. It needs to be handled in units by the same staffs who are working to prevent injury and death by improvised explosive device attacks, terrorist attacks on facilities and people, etc.
When working with the Department of Defense budget, be careful when cutting people who facilitate a commander’s ability to gain situational awareness of what is going on in echelons below him or her. It is essential that all support mechanisms are in place for soldiers and that the flow of information to decision makers is not impeded.
Sexual harassment prevention training needs to be continual and frequent.
Using sex to get ahead should not be tolerated. Women need to police their ranks just like men must do for theirs. Anyone found guilty of sexual assault and other felonies should be drummed out of the Army (Military). No second chance, no mercy—just as the Army handled drug users beginning in the 1980s.
In my simplistic mind, the key to the prevention of sexual harassment and sexual felonies in the military is for every service member and civilian, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, or rank, to be a keeper of the standards. If a soldier or civilian sees someone doing something that even appears to be wrong, he or she needs to call the offender (male or female) out on it. Give that person a chance to stop, unless it is so bad that higher ups need to know right away. If that person doesn’t stop, report them to their leadership.
Leaders must do the “tough right” and not the “easy wrong.” They must act on concerns brought to their attention, and their subordinates need to know that it’s okay to take their complaints through other channels to get resolution. The enforcement of the highest tactical, technical, ethical, and moral standards is up to every soldier and civilian in the military. If we are going to stamp out misconduct of all types, every person must enforce the standards. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
MG(Ret) Robert D. Shadley served in key leadership and staff positions during his 33-year career. He is the author of "The GAMe: Unraveling a Military Sex Scandal" which documents sexual misconduct and abuse of power at an Army school. The book is on the Army Chief of Staff Professional Reading List.
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