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Hagel: Troops' workplaces will be checked for 'degrading' images of women

May. 7, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered a close-up and comprehensive inspection of all military offices and workplaces worldwide to root out any “materials that create a degrading or offensive work environment.”

The extraordinary searches will be similar to those the Air Force conducted last year and prompted officers to scour troops’ desks and cubicles in search of photos, calendars, magazines, screen-savers, computer files and other items that might be considered degrading toward women.

The inspections will now target soldiers, sailors and Marines. They come amid heightened concern about sexual assault in the military and a new Defense Department report that suggests more than 70 troops every day experience some type of sexual assault.

Also on Tuesday Pentagon officials were reeling from reports that the officer in charge of the Air Force’s sexual assault prevention program, Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, was arrested Sunday and charged with sexual battery after he allegedly groped a woman in a parking lot several miles from the Pentagon in Crystal City, Va.

“We need a cultural change where every service member is treated with dignity and respect,” Hagel said Tuesday in announcing a list of new initiatives to prevent sexual assault.

Hagel also unveiled the Defense Department’s annual report on sexual assault, which estimates that about 26,000 troops experienced some form of “unwanted sexual contact” during the past year. That’s roughly one in every 50 troops in the active-duty force. Those numbers are derived from anonymous surveys designed to estimate the prevalence of sexual assault in the military.

Those surveys suggest that only a fraction of troops who are the victims of sexual assault ultimately come forward to make a formal report with the intent of either filing a criminal complaint or seeking medical treatment. The number of official reports of specific military sexual assaults in 2012 was 3,374, or less than 15 percent of the total assaults that occurred based on the anonymous surveys, according to the report.

Office searches coming soon

The workplace searches will be conducted by “component heads” before July 1, and Hagel expects each service to submit a report summarizing the findings. The Air Force leadership will submit a report based on inspections it ordered in late 2012 and will not be expected to conduct a new round of searches.

The searches by the Air Force last year were sparked by an enlisted airman at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., who filed a complaint with the inspector general and senior Air Force leaders in October 2012 describing how her chain of command ignored for months her reports of sexual, violent and graphic images, songbooks and other documents on a computer server. She went public with her complaint in November.

The inspections were controversial and many airman complained that it felt like a “raid” and arbitrarily targeted materials such as fitness magazines and beer posters. Air Force officials said the prevalence of those items may be correlated to sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace.

Hagel outlined several other measures aimed at cracking down on sexual assaults. He ordered the service chiefs to develop ways to hold commanders accountable for maintaining a command climate of “dignity and respect”.

Hagel set a deadline of November for the chiefs to provide details on how that will be measured and how, if at all, that assessment might be integrated into the promotion or command-screening process.

Another initiative will require the results of all command climate surveys to be provided to commanders the next level up the chain of command. That’s an effort to give high-level commanders insight into potential problems within their subordinate commands.

Hagel said he wants these measures to “really drive the cultural change.”

The anonymous surveys of troop show that victims of sexual assault are distinctly unhappy with the way they are treated, said Army Maj. Gen. Gary Patton, the director of the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.

“They perceive retaliation in the form of social retaliation, in the form of leadership retaliation,” Patton said.

Only a fraction of troops accused of sexual assault face a court martial, the report shows. Of the 1,714 troops who were specifically targeted with an allegation of sexual assault in 2012, about 302 ultimately faced a court martial and about 238 of those were convicted on at least one count, official said.

The majority of cases were resolved through other means, including the sexual assault allegations being dropped, non-judicial punishment or discharge from the military, according to the report.

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