The Army has taken steps to make female trainees safer after five men were charged with crimes ranging from misconduct to rape in the latest sex scandal affecting the U.S. military. But policies such as a "buddy system" only treat the symptoms of the pervasive malady of sexism.
The military is traditionally a male environment, and despite an increase of women who choose careers in the armed services, the attitude of male dominance and control dies hard.Four drill sergeants and a company commander have been charged and 15 more drill sergeants and instructors have been suspended from duty at the Army Ordnance center at Aberdeen, Md. An investigation into accusations by more than a dozen young female soldiers is continuing.
Army investigators plan to interview as many as 1,000 women who trained at the center this summer and have talked to about 550 women so far. More soldiers could be implicated in the scandal.
There is no excuse for sexual harassment of young recruits who are taught to obey their supervisors without question. Such treatment is bad enough in other work environments, but an ordinary employer-employee relationship provides more opportunity for escape and more avenues for reporting inappropriate behavior, though the process and the outcome are never pleasant.
The emphasis on rank, with the vast majority of officers being male, makes it difficult for women to report such incidents if they want to remain in the service. The system has to be changed to encourage early disclosure of the problem.
It's the Army's responsibility to do more than punish those guilty of such crimes and cut down on the number of opportunities available to those who may perpetrate them.
The Army has to dig deeper to find the root of the problem and eventually remove it. Why are men with tendencies to abuse power put in positions where they can exercise those tendencies? Why did the victims feel powerless to end the harassment? How can such dangerous attitudes be changed?
Until these questions and the basic acceptance of female subjugation is addressed, the Army will continue to be faced with criminal behavior among its soldiers and officers.
The Army advertises itself as a career choice. It no longer recruits members based on their patriotic duty or as an alternative to prison or detention. That was the old Army. The new Army sells itself as a respectable profession. But the reality isn't living up to the sales pitch.