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Posted on Jan 11, 2006 Print this Article

SEX SURVEY SCOLDING UNFAIR TO SERVICE ACADEMIES

On December 23, 2005, the Department of Defense released a 2005 poll of service academy men and women regarding sexual harassment and assault. You would never know—judging from the news stories that followed—that reports of sexual harassment at the service academies have gone down instead of up. [i]

The 124 page Service Academy 2005 Sexual Harassment and Assault Survey (SASA2005), produced by the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC), was authorized by legislation passed in 2003. Data gathered in this survey, and another one done by the General Accounting (now Accountability) Office in the 1990s, show a downward trend in sexual harassment and behaviors over the past 15 years. [ii]

Source: DMDC Report No. 2005-018, Dec. 2005, pp. iv-v, and 3.

The percentage of survey respondents reporting some form of sexual harassment—most of them minor—dropped from 80% to 62% at West Point, 70% to 59% at the Naval Academy, and 78% to 49%at the Air Force Academy. Inappropriate jokes and unkind comments still occur, but reports of severe abuse of women at the military academies are greatly exaggerated.

Some reports on sexual misconduct since 2003 have required hard data on “substantiated” cases, but the SASA report is only a poll, done with pen-on-paper responses to survey questions answered anonymously. Suggestive jokes and rude behavior are annoying to most women, but “sexist behaviors,” including offensive gestures and horseplay, can be observed almost everywhere. Resourceful women usually can handle the problem without a court order, but professional P.C. Police seem ready to treat every offense as the equivalent of assault or rape.

Sexual Assault vs. Harassment

Graphically worded survey questions about sexual assault are frequently highlighted by the media, creating the impression that hundreds of service academy women are being abused every day. Sexual assault is always wrong and must be punished with due process. It is inaccurate and demoralizing, however, to suggest that all allegations are equally serious, and that women cannot cope unless the military provides even more professional services than are already available.

Tables on page 13 of the SASA report show the numbers of men and women surveyed. Doing the math on the percentages of academy women reporting sexual assault, we find that numbers are relatively small and probably comparable to or lower than incidents in the civilian world: For example, 6% (37 of 618) women at the Military Academy (USMA), 5% (35 of 693) women at the Naval Academy (USNA), and 4% (30 of 738)women at the Air Force Academy (AFA) reported some form of sexual assault, defined most often as “unwanted touching of private parts.”

Even one case of assault is too many, but perspective is in order. All the bad publicity aimed at West Point, tagged with the largest number (6%), has resulted from anonymous reports from only seven more women than those who anonymously reported assaults at the Air Force Academy. [iii]

The Question Not Asked: Fraudulent Complaints

In 2004, Defense Department Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz conducted an extensive survey collecting opinions on sexual harassment and assault at the service academies. The Schmitz DoD IG Report, released in March 2005, found that fraudulent complaints are perceived as a problem by an average of 73% of women at the Air Force Academy, West Point, and Annapolis. The comparable average percentage for men at all three academies was 72%.

Figures of that size indicate a problem worthy of further investigation. But in the December 2005 SASA report, described as a “baseline” study, there are no questions about fraudulent complaints.

An appropriate place to include the issue would have been survey Question #6, (shown in the appendix) which asked respondents about “behaviors that would disrupt good order and discipline.” This would have been consistent with the authorizing legislation, which directed that the survey “assess the perceptions of academy personnel on…any other issues relating to sexual harassment and violence involving academy personnel.”

Lowered Standards? Survey Doesn’t Ask

The 2005 survey also omits any questions about “complaints that standards have been lowered,”even though this was identified by the GAO in 1991 and 1994 as the second most prominent form of sexual harassment at the academies.

That issue doesn’t fit the template into which stories like this must fit. In fact, the survey seems to omit any mention of men’s concerns at all—unless they complain about sexual harassment or assault. Complaints about differing standards, false accusations, and a lack of legal support when accusations are filed simply don’t count.

Awareness of What to Do

According to the SASA Report, at West Point 95% of female cadets who did not report incidents of sexual harassment said they “believed they could handle the situation themselves.” At the Naval Academy, the figure was 100%. But at the Air Force Academy, the same figure was only 70%.

This seems to suggest that women at West Point and the Naval Academy know how to deal with guys who get out of line, but fewer Air Force Academy women feel prepared to handle it. So they turn to professionals in the “victim advocate” service provider industry. This is progress? Perhaps it is time for the Pentagon to re-evaluate all policies based on the assumption that women can handle personal adversity with the same self-reliance as men.

At all three institutions, percentages of men and women who said they knew how to report sexual misconduct were 90-98% at the USMA, 91-96% at the USNA, and 93-99%at the AFA. Levels of awareness could not be much higher, but critics still complain as if the huge array of established professional support services simply do not exist.

There is a reason for this: bad news is good news for “victim advocate” service providers. This is a special interest like all others, with professional contractors seeking millions of Defense Department dollars for multi-year projects, career opportunities, prestigious offices, conferences, surveys, and even grants for “provocative” campus plays that use offensive language to teach undergraduates about date rape.

Several strategies are used to expand the “market” for these services. The SASA survey, for example, rates opinions about the “effectiveness” of sexual harassment and assault (SH&A) training. This implies that more training will yield perfect people, as if it is the mission of the military to mold flawless human beings who never interact inappropriately with persons of the opposite sex.

Sexual misconduct must be discouraged, but is perfection a realistic goal when we are dealing with young human beings? Or is it a rationale for more service provider contract proposals? The nation expects academy instructors to indoctrinate discipline and high moral standards, but no one expects the academies to produce candidates for sainthood only.

Enough Already!

The SASA Survey mandated by Congress must be repeated annually through the 2008 academic year. Instead of tracking progress in a constructive way, these polls are more likely to embarrass the academies, demoralize cadets, deter potential recruits, and make the case for more lucrative contracts for “victims advocates” and other professionals like those who produced the SASA report.

Since Congress has already mandated three more surveys of this kind, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Dr. David Chu, should correct deficiencies in the survey questions, and instruct his subordinates to produce a useful survey that does not cause more needless embarrassment for the Department of Defense.  It is time to bring this era of hypersensitivity to a close.

Forget the Office of Victim Advocate (OVA)

On December 10 Bryan Bender of the Boston Globe followed up on the report of CMR that the Pentagon may give in to feminist demands for an “Office of the Victim Advocate” (OVA). Last October CMR learned that a contract had been given to Wellesley College Centers for Women to produce a report on the “prospects” for the OVA, which would effectively operate as an “Office of Male Bashing”in the Pentagon.

The Globe reported that the Wellesley contract was for $50,000,and the resulting report has been submitted to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.

CMR’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for a copy of the Wellesley contract has been ignored. The Globereported that a “confidentiality agreement” applies, but if Secretary Rumsfeld expects to escape criticism by keeping the lid on a report demanding more feminist pork, that strategy will not work. Congressional feminists will somehow get a copy of the report and proceed to browbeat Rumsfeld for refusing to stop all “violence against women.”

Implementation of a self-interested Wellesley proposal for an OVA in the Pentagon could create a new job market for women’s studies graduates schooled in man-hating ideology. The 2005 SASA Report demonstrates why an OVA is not needed, and why Secretary Rumsfeld should publicly reject the idea once and for all.

It is long past time for the Defense Department to think about the negative impact of such reports, and shut off subsidies for them. Civilians who have little knowledge or respect for military law and regulations should not be allowed to relentlessly criticize the culture and people of the military, with government funds and prestige that amplify their criticisms to increasingly unfair levels. Feminist pork needs to be trimmed from the DoD budget, not expanded even more.

--------------------------

Endnotes:

[i] An exception was the January 9 Washington Times article by Rowan Scarborough, titled "Military Academies See Less Harassment."

[ii] The 1994 GAO Survey, cited on p. 3 of the SASA Report and done in the academic year 1993-94, inquired about various types of sexual harassment.  Listed in descending order of frequency they included: Derogatory comments, jokes or nicknames; Comments that standards have been lowered; Comments that women don’t belong; Offensive posters, signs, graffiti, T-shirts, or pictures; Mocking gestures, whistles, catcalls, etc.; Derogatory letters or messages; Exclusion from social activities and informal gatherings; Target of unwanted horseplay or hijinks; Unwanted pressure for dates by a more senior student; and Unwanted sexual advances. (GAO/NSIAD-95-58, March 1995, pp. 9-11)

The 2005 SASA Report combined the behaviors reported above into a single percentage for  “any type of sexual harassment,” from a list of 17 varieties. These included: Offensive remarks about appearance; Gestures or body language of a sexual nature; Offensive sexist remarks about qualifications; Unwanted attempts to establish a romantic sexual relationship; Put-downs or condescension because of gender; Continued requests for dates, drinks, dinner, etc, despite saying "No;" Apparent bribe, reward, or special treatment for engaging in sexual behavior; Threats of retaliation for not being sexually cooperative; Touching causing discomfort; Sex without consent; and other unwanted gender-related behaviors. (Q # 23, Appendix, p. 6)

[iii] These small percentages and numbers generated the scathing headline “Sexual Misconduct Reports are Highest at West Point” in Army Times,followed by an article leaving the impression that 97% of survey respondents (actually, 97% of 6%) had experienced a particular form of sexual assault.

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Posted on Jan 11, 2006 Print this Article