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Sexual Assault Allegations in Army Months after First Female Class Graduates

In May, the first-ever female class graduated from the Army’s Infantry program. Now, just months after this historical and revolutionary change, U.S. Army drill sergeants at Fort Benning, Georgia have been suspended due to a sexual misconduct investigation.

Many Army recruits complete basic training and armor training at Fort Benning, which is located near Columbus, Georgia. The Obama Administration ordered the Military to open all combat positions to women in 2013, but it took several years for women to be integrated into the system. Women had already been serving in Iraq and Afghanistan combat zones but found it harder to advance their careers in the military without serving as combat branch members.

A review of the entire base was conducted after one allegation was made by a female trainee. That allegation was leveled, but several other instances of sexual misconduct between trainees and drill sergeants were found. The exact number is unknown.

On August 23, a statement on the nature of the investigation was released by Ben Garrett, the spokesperson for Fort Benning.

“Our initial actions are to ensure the safety and welfare of all our soldiers. The drill sergeants have been suspended from drill sergeant duties, and will have no contact with the trainees during the course of the investigation.”

The investigation is being led by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command and Fort Benning’s Center of Excellence. As support for all involved, Fort Benning is providing trainees involved with counseling, as well as legal and medical services.

“There is no place for sexual harassment or sexual assault in our Army,” the report states.

All soldiers are required to complete the Army’s thorough Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention training program (SHARP), which had been a requirement long before women were integrated. Does SHARP’s failure to prevent sexual harassment reflect more on the quality of the program or the integrity of the sergeants? Sexual harassment was not a problem before women were integrated into the Army.  

When the ban on women in the Army was lifted, gender-neutral performance standards were adopted in order to ensure that everybody was treated exactly the same. To graduate from the program, all must pass the exact same tests. Women were not required to shave their heads like the men, but most did just to prove that they wanted equal treatment. With the presence of women in the military growing, changes need to be made to the way soldiers are educated about sexual harassment.

As of now, all that has been revealed is that the investigation has begun. Nothing has been found yet, as the facts are still being gathered. We hope that during this time, effected trainees get the support they need, and the Army prepares for more changes within their facilities and programs to foster a safe and respectful environment for everyone.

“While the investigation continues, our primary objective is the well-being of all our soldiers. Further information will be released at the appropriate time.”

Featured Image by Minnesota National Guard on Flickr

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