GAO: sexual harassment in the military underreported

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A GAO report released today criticized the Department of Defense (DOD) for its oversight of sexual harassment, citing new statistics suggesting that the majority of sexual harassment in the military goes unreported.

According to the report, only 4 of the 82 service members who said they were sexually harassed in the past year reported it formally.

The study also found that an estimated 41 percent of servicemembers believed that people in their work group would be able to get away with sexual harassment, even if it were reported.

"GAO found several reasons why servicemembers may choose not to report an incident, including the belief that the incident was not sufficiently serious to report or that the incident would not be taken seriously if reported," the report states. "...support for sexual harassment policies and programs by military commanders and senior enlisted servicemembers is not consistently strong".

Military personnel reported that incidents of sexual harassment were sometimes ignored or "swept under the rug", according to interviews conducted by GAO investigators, because leaders believed complaints would reflect badly on their command.

The DOD's Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity is required to report annually on their efforts to prevent sexual harassment, including data on complaints of sexual harassment within the service branches. The GAO found that this requirement has not been enforced since 2002-almost a decade. When asked why the services were not providing the required reports, an official "stated that the reports were not needed", according to the report.

With over a million active duty servicemembers in the U.S. military in addition to hundreds of thousands of civilian employees, the GAO found only a single person is currently assigned to oversee all DOD efforts associated with sexual harassment. "As a result, decision makers in DOD do not have the information they need to provide effective oversight, or assess the effectiveness, of the department's policies and programs" the report states.

"Sexual harassment is an area that the DOD has not given adequate attention to in the past 10 years," Brenda Farrell, one of the report's authors, told CBS News. "The data raises a lot of questions about what is going on, and we would like to see DOD aggressively pursue the implementation of these recommendations."

In a letter submitted in response to the GAO, the Defense Department concurred with the report's recommendations and stated that it "will work collaboratively to implement them in an effort to sustain military readiness by establishing a culture free of sexual harassment throughout DOD".

  • Sarah Fitzpatrick

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