FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- In researching the topic of sexual harassment in the military, I came across an interesting article online from The Washington Post newspaper. It was written by Sandra G. Boodman in 1980, centering on women and sexual harassment at U.S. Army bases. The article made me think about how much the Army has changed throughout the years.
Take for example the following comment in the article by a Ranger instructor interviewed at a base club as he sipped a beer.
"Harassment will exist as long as there are women in the military. The only place an infantryman gets to see a woman is his mama or a stripper. Guys will go as far as a woman allows, and I think we're getting women into the Army with very low moral standards."
This comment prompted me to seek additional perspectives on the matter -- and coincidentally I didn't have to go far. In her article, Boodman interviewed several female Soldiers stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, but one lieutenant in particular, Ann, shared her comments as follows:
"When I first drove on this post I thought there was something wrong with my car," recalled 'Ann,' 24, an Army intelligence specialist. "Guys just stopped what they were doing and stared, like they'd never seen a female before."
The article continued with Ann saying that in her two years here little has changed.
"The guys are really crude. [I] always feel naked or like a piece of meat. In general, women are just not accepted."
After reading these comments, I thought that it would be interesting to speak to Ann now, to get her current take on sexual harassment and sexual assault in the Army. Imagine my surprise when I did a little digging and found that this former lieutenant is now the chief of the CONUS Counterintelligence Coordinating Authority at our command's 902nd Military Intelligence Group, Fort George G. Meade, Maryland.
I reached out to Ann Clawson who graciously volunteered her time and thoughts, drawing from her experience over the years, both as a Soldier and as an Army civilian.
Clawson shared with me that in the late '70s and early '80s, leaders clearly struggled with treating women Soldiers equally to male Soldiers. She added that while she didn't experience any major issues pertaining to sexual harassment or sexual assault in the Military Intelligence field or while stationed at Fort Bliss, Fort Benning was a different story.
"Infantrymen had primarily negative (feelings) about women in the Army," Clawson said. "Sexual harassment, including jokes and unwanted physical contact of various types-were rampant and hard to escape."
According to Clawson, what made the situation worse was the difficulty and backlash one would face for reporting and disciplining male Soldiers for their actions.
"I believe things are definitely better, but still not where they should be," Clawson said, comparing the Army back then to now. "When I was in the Army, you would hear inappropriate comments from leaders belittling women in open forums, i.e., unit get-togethers. That wouldn't fly now in most units. In recent years, any time I have heard an inappropriate comment about someone (or) something, I have always seen a leader handle it immediately."
Ann's experience is a testament to the fact that times have changed mostly for the better, but like she said, things are "still not where they should be."
One sexual assault in our formations is one too many, and while it can have devastating effects on an Army unit, this serious problem is not exclusive to the military.
"Attitudes are the same throughout society," Clawson added. "The majority of men and women get it and act properly, but there will always be those who don't."
As for solutions to solving sexual harassment and sexual assault, Clawson stated that educating the workforce is very important, and I couldn't agree more.
Clawson adds that holding perpetrators accountable is equally important to educating the workforce and that commanders have to be seen handling sexual harassment and sexual assault issues properly.
In addition to the group of people mentioned above who don't "get it," is another group comprised of thousands of new recruits every year who come from different cultures and walks of life, who were raised differently from one another. Combined, these two groups present an ongoing challenge of educating the workforce, which is why training is imperative.
Clawson remains optimistic about the Army's future as it pertains to sexual harassment and sexual assault, and offers the following advice:
1) Know the Army's rules regarding what is considered inappropriate words/behaviors;
2) Take advantage of the protections provided to you;
3) Find a more senior person to mentor you -- someone you can go to for assistance if you are ever faced with sexual harassment/assault directed at yourself or others;
4) Believe in yourself. You are worthy of the respect of your fellow Soldiers/leaders and you should not accept less; and
5) Make friends, male and female -- even if you don't face sexual harassment or sexual assault -- this will make your time in the Army a lot more enjoyable.
These are words of wisdom coming from someone who has first-hand experience that transcends a major societal breakthrough, that being the enlistment of women in non-traditional military occupational specialties (MOS).
I could not have asked for a better candidate to share a perspective of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the Army. Clawson's experience, knowledge, and insight has shown me that the Army has changed considerably; however, it has also shown me that we still have work to do.
The work that needs to be done involves something Clawson and I have alluded to: education and training.
Education and training are important because they are two of the first steps towards prevention. The INSCOM SHARP Office takes this seriously, as evidenced by a robust SHARP Face-To-Face Training schedule which involves training twice a month -- every month -- as well as participation in quarterly training events (two sessions per quarterly training).
Doing the math, this training schedule equates to approximately 32 opportunities a year to stay in, or get in, the "green!" More importantly, these are opportunities for people to learn.
For questions or concerns pertaining to sexual harassment or sexual assault, reach out to local SHARP Offices or the DoD Safe Helpline at (877) 995-5247, https://www.safehelpline.org/.