Advocates for military women are planning a #MeToo demonstration outside the Pentagon next month to add their voices to the movement that has put a spotlight on workplace sexual harassment and extinguished the careers of powerful men in entertainment, media, technology and politics.
The event is envisioned to allow military women and their supporters throughout the Washington area to raise awareness, show solidarity and share stories about sexual assault and harassment in the military.
“We are demonstrating outside the Pentagon to ensure the voices of servicewomen and men are not left behind in the #MeToo movement and that the reckoning that has swept other industries in the nation also takes place in the military,” said Lydia Watts, chief of the Service Women’s Action Network, one of three nonprofit groups involved in the effort.
“Despite major efforts undertaken by the military in the last decade, sexual assault and harassment continues to be widespread in the military, victims still face retaliation if they report and, and justice for victims remains elusive,” Watts said in a statement.
The military has wrestled with sexual assault and harassment since the 1991 Tailhook scandal burst into public view. At a reunion of retired and active-duty Navy aviators at a Las Vegas hotel, 83 women and seven men were assaulted by some 100 men, with the Navy’s top brass doing nothing to stop them.
The initial Navy investigation blamed a few lower-ranking men, and the rear admiral in charge of the probe said he believed that many female Navy pilots were “go-go dancers, topless dancers or hookers,” according to a Pentagon report.
The rally is scheduled for 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Jan. 8 at the Pentagon Metro Station in Arlington, Va.
Sexual assault and harassment in the military has been discussed and studied for more than a decade. Though it has been addressed with policy and law changes, it remains a serious problem.
A 2014 Rand Corp. study found that an estimated 26 percent of active-duty women were sexually harassed in that year and that nearly 5 percent had been sexually assaulted. Of the minority of those who reported, about 60 percent said they’d faced retaliation for reporting it.
At the Army and Navy service academies where future military leaders are minted, half of female cadets had been sexually harassed; 12 percent said they’d been sexually assaulted, according to Defense Department reports released earlier this year.
“Military women have been coming forward for decades. They just haven’t been listened to,” said Toni Rico, at the Service Women’s Action Network.
Don Christensen, a former Air Force top prosecutor now the president of Protect Our Defenders, which is a co-sponsor of the demonstration, said that military leadership failed to take the problem seriously, despite lip service. Senior officers who perpetrate sexual harassment and assault should be publicly chastised and made example of, he said, instead of being allowed to quietly retire. “There’s no condemnation, they’re just quietly shuffled off,” Christensen said.
“It’s a missed opportunity for the military to do more and take a public stance,” Christensen said. “That’s why it’s offensive that they don’t court-martial these generals, whether (the misconduct) is consensual or not. The details of their crime and the exact nature of their punishment would be public.”
In the civilian workforce, secrecy in sexual abuse cases — through forced arbitration agreements keeping claims out of court and settlement agreements forcing victims to keep quiet — have been criticized for helping to perpetuate abuse. Earlier this month, Microsoft, one of the world’s biggest software makers, eliminated forced arbitration agreements and was supporting a proposed federal law that would ban them.