Potomac News Online | Preventing sexual harassment at the military academies

News item: On Sept. 22, a seven-person congressional panel headed by former Republican congresswoman Tillie Fowler reported that commanders at the Air Force Academy failed to heed warnings that female cadets were being sexually assaulted. The panel recommended 21 changes at the academy plus it asked for an inquiry to determine which former senior officers were to blame for the problem.

?We found a deep chasm of leadership during the most critical time in the academy?s history, one that extended far beyond its campus in Colorado Springs,? Ms. Fowler said. ?Sadly, we believe this chasm in leadership helped create an environment in which sexual assault became a part of life.?

Comment: It seems to me that the Fowler Report raises more questions than it answers. For example, were the sexual assaults rapes, attempted rapes, so-called date rapes, unwelcome groping, cases of morning-after remorse ? what? Also, did the incidents occur in dormitory rooms, elsewhere on academy grounds, in off-campus apartments, in the back seats of cars ? where?

For Ms. Fowler or others to say, in a sweeping manner, that senior Air Force officers ?created an environment? for sexual assaults does not have the ring of truth. The general officers who set and enforced policies at the academy were themselves husbands and parents and they had spent their entire careers conforming to a rigorous code of conduct. Yet, Ms. Fowler would have us believe these same officers were derelict in their responsibilities while at the Air Force Academy. I don?t like that scenario and I?m not convinced it is accurate.

Sexual adventurism among college-age men and women has existed as long as any of us can remember. True, if this activity turns into an assault, then we have a crime on our hands, but an assault at a military academy is [or should be] no different than an assault in a civilian community. Both should be handled by police and the courts. But before the police can get involved, a victim must come forward and report the incident.

A survey issued to the media on Sept. 29 indicated that two-thirds of academy freshmen women said they would not report a sexual assault. Why?

Most (41 percent) said they didn?t want to be incriminated in other rule violations (underage drinking, off-campus parties, curfew problems, violations of non-fraternization rules). Others (36 percent) said they feared being ?ostracized? by classmates.

Unwanted sexual contacts by persons of either gender in a military setting can be minimized if both the men and women follow three simple rules:

? Keep the door open. That means if you must meet with a person of the opposite sex in order to work on a project or to study you never close the door.

? Three-person rule. In those rare cases where you must admonish or otherwise counsel a subordinate of the opposite sex in a closed-door setting, you must have an additional person present, either male of female. This is the only way to prevent he-said, she-said situations from arising later.

? No dating within the chain of command. A corporal can date a corporal in a different unit, but not a sergeant in the same unit. An analogous situation can be applied to military academies, where students are organized into companies or squadrons. Punishment for violating this rule would be imposed on both parties, not just on the senior person.

If both male and female cadets at the academy had followed these rules no one would feel victimized. Certainly there would be no need now for special committees and boards of inquiry to find out ?what went wrong? at the school.

Gary Jacobsen, a former Marine colonel, lives in Woodbridge.

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