In Response to Sexual Harassment, Military Considers Sex-Segregated Recruit Training

The Air Force is currently considering completely segregating new recruit training by gender in response to recent sexual harassment scandals, as reported today by the Christian Science Monitor. Following allegations of sexual misconduct by male recruit training supervisors who had sexual relationships with and in some cases raped female recruits, the Air Force is considering allowing only female supervisors train new female recruits. If the Air Force ultimately takes this step, it will be an unprecedented move for a military branch that has struggled to integrate women into its ranks.
Air Force General Edward Rice presented this recommendation to the Pentagon this week, as the military is still reeling from the sex scandal. Since June 2011, almost a dozen women in the Air Force have come forward claiming that their basic recruit training supervisors had sex with them, and in one case, raped them. After investigations and a pending trial that has so far procured a number of confessions by the supervisors, the Air Force has begun reevaluating its basic training model in order to avoid similar scandals. In response to the revelations, the Air Force also undertook a survey of women in the Air Force that found that one in five had been sexually assaulted, and of those just one in five reported their assault.
This sexual scandal in the Air Force, though unique because of the openness with which the branch has approached the issue, is still not surprising for the thousands of women across the country who have faced similar situations in non-military environments. The recent Kleiner Perkins Silicon Valley sexual harassment suit demonstrates that it doesn’t matter the industry, women in male-dominated environments often face open discrimination and unlawful sexual harassment every day. For many women, like the women in the Air Force survey, fears of retaliation or hindering their career advancement silences them from sharing their stories of harassment and abuse or filing suit.
For women in the military, their attempts to get justice are also often thwarted by military rules and regulations about investigations of sexual misconduct. As reported by ABC News this week, military women are currently lobbying to have a law passed that would bypass the chain of command for sexual assault complaints. The proposed law, the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act, or STOP Act, would address a problem that has faced women in the military who have faced sexual assault and discrimination for years. Proposed by U.S. Representative Jackie Speier for California’s 12th congressional district, the act has been supported by the women in the Air Force case who were harassed and raped. Those women claimed that in addition to facing unlawful conduct, they also faced retaliation and harassment for speaking out. Other women who were similarly retaliated against for speaking out against abuse in the military have also rallied in support of the law’s passage.
This issue of sexual harassment and discrimination against women in the military continues to snowball, as a recent documentary released this week on the “epidemic” of sexual assault in the military, The Invisible War, gains national media attention. Hopefully these recent developments will lead to changes within the military to better protect women from unlawful discrimination and assault. As many women who work in male-dominated environments know, they certainly need all the help they can get to assert their rights to a workplace free of intimidation, discrimination and harassment.

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