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An Opportunity for the Army : Case offers a chance to show it won't tolerate sexual misconduct

November 11, 1996

The Army is moving aggressively to investigate allegations of sexual harassment and predation brought by female soldiers against a number of trainers at its Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. High officers promise that the service's policy of zero tolerance for sexual misconduct will be rigorously enforced.

Maj. Gen. Robert D. Shadley, commander of the Army Ordnance Center at the base, describes the allegations as the worst thing he has seen in 30 years in uniform and says efforts will be made to interview all of the 1,000 or so women who have trained at the base in the last few years. At least 19 female soldiers have brought accusations, including allegations of rape, against at least one officer and several noncommissioned officers.

An allegation is not a proven fact, and it probably will take a number of courts-martial to establish what occurred. One of the men charged has strongly denied committing rape, insisting that the sex he and a female soldier engaged in was consensual. That too is a crime under military laws against fraternizing, but of a far lesser order than rape. Military law permits a sentence of up to life imprisonment for rape.

The Army seems determined, to its credit, to expose what happened and punish any guilty parties, regardless of how embarrassing the truth may prove to be. The Navy is still under a cloud because it could not get the cooperation from naval personnel it needed to prosecute any of its aviators who participated in an orgy of sexual harassment at the Tailhook convention in Las Vegas in 1991. About 68,000 of the Army's 500,000 soldiers are women. At a time when the military is finding it harder to attract talented young volunteers, the last impression the Army wants to convey is that it turns a blind eye to sexual predation on its posts. The Maryland case gives it an unsought chance to show just how unaccepting of sexual harassment it can be.

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