Sexual Harassment in the Military

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Putting women into front-line combat units potentially could create a sexual harassment minefield and an explosion of complaints and investigations. Current sexual harassment law prohibits more than just unwanted sexual advances or sexual quid-pro-quos. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general [emphasis added]… Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment…” Given the role of sexual banter and slang in close-knit groups of males like sports teams or combat platoons, the presence of women in such groups would require a wholesale and perhaps impossible change of behavior on the part of men who have grown up accustomed to using such locker-room chaffing and humor to bond with their fellows. Moreover, such banter frequently is a way to alleviate stress and fear. Even in less lethal schools and offices, the inherent subjectivity of categories such as “hostile,” “severe,” and “intimidating” has lead to expensive and disruptive investigations of charges no matter how irrational and absurd on their face. Given that the military is already suffering what some call an “epidemic” of sexual harassment, the presence of women in combat has the potential to make a quantum leap in such charges and the subsequent investigations and trials, with deleterious effects on group cohesion and effectiveness.