Saturday, November 3, 2012

NYT - November 2, 2012 - Military Has Not Solved Problem of Sexual Assault, Women Say

The New York Times

via NYT > U.S. by By JAMES RISEN on 11/2/12
One sergeant’s account of abuse suggests that more than 20 years after Tailhook, the infamous 1991 scandal involving Navy fighter pilots, little has changed in the insular fighter pilot culture.

November 2, 2012

Military Has Not Solved Problem of Sexual Assault, Women Say

WASHINGTON — Jennifer Smith, an Air Force technical sergeant, walked into the office of a senior officer at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea with an armful of paperwork. Instead of signing the documents, she said, he insisted that she sit down. “He said to me, ‘It’s Friday afternoon, why don’t you take off your blouse and get comfortable?’ ” Sergeant Smith recalled.
In Germany, a master sergeant who offered to escort her home tried to sexually assault her, she said, and was deterred only when co-workers intervened. At Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, where she eventually complained about pornography and other graphic material on her unit’s computers, a supervisor warned her to keep quiet, she said.
During her 17-year career as an enlisted woman performing administrative work for Air Force fighter squadrons, Sergeant Smith said, she has endured repeated sexual assaults and harassment. She said she has decided to speak out now after keeping silent for many years because senior officers were involved or appeared to tolerate improper behavior by fighter pilots, one of the military’s most elite groups.
“I learned quickly that the enlisted females who do well are the ones who keep their mouths shut,” said Sergeant Smith, who filed a formal complaint last month charging that the Air Force has turned a blind eye to pervasive sexual attacks and harassment against women. “It’s a career ender to come forward.”
The Air Force declined to comment on her allegations, citing privacy laws, but said it acts to combat such misconduct. “The goal for sexual assault in the United States Air Force is zero,” Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the Air Force chief of staff, said in a written statement. “If you’re a commander or a supervisor and you are not directly and aggressively involved in speaking up about this issue in your unit, then you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”
Faced with lawsuits and mounting evidence of widespread sexual abuse in the military, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta acknowledged this year that the number of sexual assaults in the military is probably far higher than the official statistics show, because so many episodes are covered up. More than 3,000 sexual assault cases were reported in 2011 throughout all of the military services, but Mr. Panetta said that the actual figures could be as high as 19,000.
The Defense Department has found that about one in three women in the military has been sexually assaulted, compared with one in six civilian women. About 20 percent of female veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have experienced some form of sexual assault or related trauma, according to the Veterans Administration. “Despite the implementation of prevention programs and improved reporting mechanisms, female soldiers continue to experience sexual harassment and assault and are reluctant to report incidences,” a 2011 Labor Department report concluded.
Susan Burke, a Washington lawyer representing women who said they were victims of sexual assault or harassment and who have filed a series of lawsuits against the Pentagon beginning last year, said that since then more than 500 additional women, including Sergeant Smith, and a few men, have contacted her for help.
The Air Force and other services have instituted programs to deter abuses and discipline those who commit them. But Sergeant Smith, who is still on active duty with the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw, and others in the Air Force said that many women are skeptical.
Air Force Technical Sgt. Kimberly Davis, assigned to Stewart Air National Guard Base in New York, said that after she reported being raped, officers on the base, including one assigned to handle sexual assault cases, conspired to cover up the episode. “The sexual assault program in the Air Force is a joke,” she said.
Lola Miles, a former Air Force helicopter mechanic at Hurlburt Field in Florida, said that when she told senior officers that a male co-worker had repeatedly hit her at work and made vulgar remarks to her, they joked about it. Instead of taking action against her co-worker, she said, the leaders in her unit sought to discredit her and force her out of the Air Force. Both she and Sergeant Davis have filed lawsuits against the Air Force.
Sergeant Smith, 35, has worked with fighter squadrons inside the United States and overseas for most of her career. Her account of abuse suggests that more than 20 years after Tailhook, the infamous 1991 scandal involving Navy fighter pilots, little has changed in the insular fighter pilot culture.
“They can’t deal with women in fighter squadrons,” Sergeant Smith said. “The military is going ahead with getting rid of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ but they still aren’t even ready to deal with women.
“The pilots know we think of them like our heroes,” she added. “It’s just a game to them, really.”
Sergeant Smith’s allegations could not be independently confirmed because she had not formally reported the episodes, many of which happened years ago, until now. Several other people in the Air Force who she said knew of some of the episodes, including her husband, who is an enlisted man in the 20th Fighter Wing, declined to be interviewed for this article, citing fears of retribution. Her wing commander, Col. Clay W. Hall, did not address any specifics, but said in a written statement: “We take these matters with utmost seriousness. All allegations of misconduct are investigated immediately and actions are taken appropriately.”
Sergeant Smith’s written administrative complaint filed with the Air Force notes that she has consistently received high marks in performance reviews. She joined the Air Force in 1995, out of high school in Salamanca, N.Y. The next year, during her first overseas temporary duty assignment at Sembach Air Base in Germany, she was assaulted by a master sergeant in his room after a night of drinking, she said. Male co-workers who came to the rescue warned that the sergeant had a reputation for preying on young enlisted women, she said.
At Kunsan in South Korea in 2001, Sergeant Smith said, she was walking in the America Town bar district near the base when a group of fighter pilots rushed out of a bar, carried her inside and threw her on top of a table. About 30 pilots crowded around. She had been caught up in a “sweep,” when fighter pilots grab women off the street for “naming ceremonies,” or drinking parties to celebrate a pilot’s new nickname. “Some of the pilots called Kunsan ‘the land of do as you please,’ ” Sergeant Smith said. “They could get away with anything.”
That same year, while attending a party at the base commander’s home at Kunsan, several pilots grabbed her and bound her and a pilot together with duct tape despite her resistance, she said. Twenty or more pilots gathered around, but nothing was done to stop it.
When she was transferred to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, Sergeant Smith, by then married to the enlisted man in her unit, attended a family event in 2003 with the squadron at the Arizona Diamondbacks stadium, where an Air Force pilot made sexual remarks to her in front of her husband. The couple went back to the base and complained to the operations director of their squadron about the harassment she endured, she said.
Nothing came of it, but when she arrived at her next assignment at Shaw, a supervisor pulled her aside and said she had a reputation for being too outspoken. “He said he wanted to make sure I understood my place in the world, and if not, things could be harder on me,” she recalled.
She said she finally got fed up and decided to go public after discovering large collections of pornography and other sexually graphic and offensive materials stored on the unit’s computers and in a vault supposedly reserved for classified documents at Shaw. She complained to senior officers, who promised they would get rid of the materials, but then did nothing.
“I’ve been able to serve my country, but I’ve also had to put up with a lot,” the sergeant said. “I want it to be changed.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: November 2, 2012
A picture caption with an earlier version of this article misstated who had just returned from Iraq. Jennifer Smith, an Air Force technical sergeant, had just returned, not her husband, who, as the article noted, is an enlisted man in the 20th Fighter Wing.


via NYT > U.S. by By JAMES RISEN on 11/2/12
One sergeant’s account of abuse suggests that more than 20 years after Tailhook, the infamous 1991 scandal involving Navy fighter pilots, little has changed in the insular fighter pilot culture.

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1 comment:

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