Sexual Harassment (1997 News of the Nation)

Updated February 11, 2017 | Infoplease Staff

1997 News of the Nation

Politicians weren't the only subjects of investigations in 1997. A series of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual discrimination complaints in various branches of the armed forces erupted, resulting in numerous investigations and courts martial. In November 1996, several female recruits at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground complained of sexual harassment by drill instructors. The Army instituted a hot line that soldiers could use to anonymously report incidents of sexual discrimination, harassment, or assault. Those accused were removed from their posts pending investigation into the charges. By the time the line was 9 days old, it had logged over 4,000 calls, leading to more than 550 investigations. There were 12 indictments at Aberdeen alone. Staff Sergeant Delmar Simpson was convicted in May of rape and sexual misconduct, and sentenced to 25 years in military prison.

In June, Maj. Gen. John Longhouser, the commander of the Aberdeen base and convening authority for the courts martial, announced that he would retire rather than face possible charges of adultery. Also in June, a drill sergeant at Aberdeen testified that he was part of a sex ring targeting female trainees. In July, Lt. Col. Martin Utzig, commander of 7 of the accused drill sergeants at Aberdeen, was suspended.

A cloud of sexual misconduct also loomed over the nomination process to fill the impending vacancy of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The top candidate, Gen. Joseph Ralston, admitted to having had an extra-marital affair a decade prior to his nomination. Normally the topic would not have been raised in the context of such a nomination process, but the Air Force had dismissed its only female B-52 pilot, Lt. Kelly Flinn, only weeks before for what amounted to adultery charges. Ignoring Ralston's admission would have been tantamount to sexual discrimination since they would be selectively enforcing the military's code of conduct, which prohibits adultery. The committee was spared the high-profile decision when Ralston withdrew his name.

In September, an army investigator ruled that Sgt. Major of the Army Gene McKinney, the top-ranking enlisted soldier, should be court martialed on 22 counts of sexual misconduct. The counts stem from allegations by six women who had worked with McKinney.

McKinney's lawyers alleged that the charges are discriminatory. Originally, they argued that white officers of similar rank had committed similar misdeeds but went unpunished, while McKinney, who is black, was court martialed. The strategy was later switched to allege that McKinney was discriminated against because of his rank.

A long-delayed report on sexual harassment in the military finally came out in September. Sexual harassment and discrimination in the army is “commonplace,” according to the report, regardless of the victim's race, rank, or gender. Sexual assault, however, is rare. The Army pledged to add an extra week to its basic training to focus on gender issues, and to make clear its “zero tolerance” for sexual discrimination.

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