Service members had varied reasons for not filing reports, including the belief that the incident was not sufficiently serious or that it would not be taken seriously if reported.
The bottom line is that the services need to redouble their efforts to discourage sexual misbehavior that can jeopardize combat readiness and hinder mission accomplishment, the study concluded.
The report released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, is based in part on a confidential survey of 583 service members at six locations, including Norfolk Naval Station.
Of those surveyed, 60 of 264 women and 22 of 319 men – about one in seven overall – said they had been sexually harassed during the preceding 12 months. Of those, only four said they had reported the incident formally.
A substantial minority – 64 women and 53 men – did not believe or were unsure whether their direct supervisor created a climate that discourages sexual harassment.
At four of the six locations, military personnel told investigators that incidents of sexual harassment were sometimes ignored by leaders or “swept under the rug.”
One chaplain said some leaders are reluctant to forward complaints of harassment outside their command out of fear that it might reflect badly on their leadership or hurt their chances of promotion.
The Defense Department defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances that are intimidating, hostile, offensive or tied explicitly or implicitly to a person’s job, pay or career advancement.
In a 2010 Defense Department survey, 41 percent of service members – 52 percent of women and 38 percent of men – said that in their work group, people would be able to get away with sexual harassment to some extent even if it were reported.
The GAO also found that the Defense Department has not held commanders accountable for completing required assessments of the equal opportunity climate in their commands.
Although the department requires the services to provide an annual assessment of their programs, including specific data for sexual harassment complaints, those reporting requirements have not been enforced for almost a decade, the GAO found.
The Defense Department concurred with the GAO’s findings and agreed to develop a strategy for heightened accountability.
Besides the Norfolk base, the locations surveyed were Camp Victory, Iraq; Fort Carson, Colo.; Lackland Air Force Base, Texas; Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base, N.C.; and the San Diego-based aircraft carrier Carl Vinson.
Bill Sizemore, (757) 446-2276, firstname.lastname@example.org