Commandant General Rober Neller testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Enough Of The U.S. Military's Excuses For Sexual Misconduct

March 17, 2017

To quote the legendary Yogi Berra, “It’s like deja vu all over again.” How else to explain the recent hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee?

Another year, another senate inquiry about sexual harassment and misconduct in the military. This time the issue involves a private Facebook group sharing nude photos of female Marines. The group, called Marines United, boasts a membership of 30,000 current and veteran Marines. Thousands posted and reposted these photos in a cavalier exchange which violated their Marines who, like themselves, are professionals in the service of their country. Semper Fi, indeed.

As for the hearing, like a Broadway touring play, the story, the characters, even the set, are all the same — sadly, only the actors and the dates of the performances have changed. Once again, military chiefs were called on the carpet to address the ongoing sexual harassment of women in the military. Once again, in the Senate hearing room, female legislators aimed their anger and frustration at the beribboned military leaders. And once again, these men repeated what they’d said before —  it won’t happen again.

New Hampshire’s Senator Jeanne Shaheen wasn’t buying it, saying, “We hear this repeated and again, and we see these kinds of situations again and again.” Senator Kristen Gillibrand, who pushed to take cases of sexual harassment outside of the military, was especially upset. She told Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Neller: “You have demanded that you maintain control of these issues, but where is the accountability for failure?”

Why wasn’t I surprised to find out that this online abuse of Marine women has been going on since 2013? Because I know the number of sexual assault cases has increased across all branches of the military. The documentary, The Invisible War, chronicled what it described as an epidemic of the rape of soldiers. I’m left to wonder if deep seated resentment about women in the military, and specifically combat duty, has fostered this epidemic. After all, it was only four years ago when then Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines to move forward in instituting gender-neutral standards. Only two years after that Captain Kristen Griest and First Lieutenant Shaye Haver bested their male trainees in graduating from the physically grueling U.S. Army Ranger School. They made history, and in doing so, made it clear women will not be intimidated out of the military.

In his recent the-buck-stops-here appearance, Commandant General Robert Neller told the Senate, “I’m the Commandant. I own this.” He added, “We’ve got to change and that’s on me.”

I’d be more inclined to believe that this time if I thought that Neller and his cohorts understood that sexual harassment is not about sex, but violence. That the women who serve have too long been left to fight two wars not only against the enemy, but also against the men in their ranks.

Renowned physicist Albert Einstein was right in defining insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” I’m sick of the sexual harassment scandals, the Senate hearings, the military mea culpa — all in repeat performance. These are real women’s lives — correction, real women and real patriots’ lives. Enough.


WGBH News is supported by:
Back to top